Being a manager involves making tough decisions, especially when the economic climate is as gloomy as it is at the moment. Many of these decisions will be unpopular – nobody likes to hear about job cuts, pay freezes or pet projects being put on hold. Although it’s difficult to do what’s best for the organisation and remain everyone’s friend, being universally hated is not good.
While gathering enemies is an occupational hazard that few managers can totally avoid, it can be risky as enemies have a habit of making life difficult in the long run. Even if they’re not deliberately out to sabotage or get their revenge, it would be naïve to expect the wholehearted co-operation of people who don’t trust their manager to have at least some basic consideration for their interests and feelings.
But what’s the alternative? Whenever someone describes a manager as ‘nice’, there often seems to be an underlying suggestion that their effectiveness is somehow compromised. It’s easy to view niceness with suspicion, equating it with weakness. It is perhaps the fear of appearing weak that drives some managers to the other extreme, justifying an aggressive thoughtless approach by saying ‘I’m not here to be liked’.
Being liked is a valuable asset to a manager, because it helps develop loyalty and commitment even in the face of the harshest management choices. The problem arises when the need to be liked gets in the way – making a decision just because it would be popular is clearly not appropriate. The need to be liked can also lead to anxiety over how to avoid making an unpopular decision or how to make it more palatable. Dithering and indecisiveness however are qualities that are completely incompatible with effective management.
Whether a manager is liked or disliked is perhaps not the important issue, but it can be a useful indicator of whether or not people will co-operate with implementing tough decisions. Using consultation to inform decision-making, thinking about other people’s feelings and communicating in a thoughtful way, far from being signs of weakness, actually make good business sense.