Ask Jo: Is it better to be liked or respected?

Question: Is it more important for an aspiring leader to be liked or respected?

Answer:

“Would you rather be liked or respected?”

That’s the question I asked 200 aspiring leaders at the Network of Executive Women’s Annual Leadership Summit in Dallas recently. “Respected” was their all-but-unanimous reply.

Just to be sure, I repeated the question. “Respected!” they replied, louder and in unison this time.

As I travel around the United States (and sometimes the world) speaking to emerging women leaders, I often ask this question as part of a discussion about that special quality that every leader wants to have: Leadership presence. Everywhere I go, the answer is always the same: it’s more important to be respected than liked.

So it might come as a surprise to hear what the experts have to say.

Two Components of Charisma

In her book, The Charisma Myth (Portfolio, 2012), Olivia Fox Cabane efficiently dismantles the notion that charisma is something a person is born with – or without. Instead, the author asserts, it’s actually a skill that can be learned. “The equation that produces charisma is fairly simple,” says Fox Cabane. “All you have to do is give the impression that you possess both high power and high warmth, since charismatic behaviors project a combination of these two qualities.”

So if you want to be seen as a charismatic leader, someone with a compelling persona and presence, it’s not enough to exude the “high power” that garners you respect. You’ll also need to possess “high warmth” and be approachable. In short, you’ll need to be a person that others like to be around.

Two Components of Leadership Presence

Another expert who has researched leadership presence—what it is and how to build it—is Amy Cuddy at Harvard Business School. (If you haven’t already viewed her TED talk on power poses here, you really must.)

Cuddy has spoken with the TED Blog about two traits that are most carry the most weight when we form an impression about whether another individual is an effective leader. When we first meet someone, we unconsciously size them up, and according to Cuddy, “We ask: do I like this person (warmth/trustworthiness) and do I respect this person (power/competence)?”

Further, in the Harvard Business Review article “Connect, Then Lead,” Cuddy and her co-authors Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger explain, “When we judge others—especially our leaders—we look first at two characteristics: how lovable they are (their warmth, communion, or trustworthiness) and how fearsome they are (their strength, agency, or competence).” And just like that, they boiled down the essence of leadership presence into two qualities: warmth and authority.

It intuitively makes sense. A person who is warm but lacking authority is a pushover. They may be well-liked, but will lack the credibility it takes to lead and influence others. If a person’s approach to leadership is all authority and no warmth, however – i.e. the “command and control” leadership style – they tend to squash people’s creativity, self-reliance and motivation.

Simply put, if you want to be perceived as an effective leader, you can’t afford to choose between being liked or respected. You need both. Fox Cabane tells us you’ll need “both high power and high warmth,” while Cuddy et al. tell us you’ll need to show warmth and strength. You need to be lovable and fearsome. You’ll need to demonstrate trustworthiness and competence.

Want others to see you as a leader? Exude warmth and authority or, as one of my Twitter buddies named it, “Warmthority!”

Is it More Important to be Liked or Respected?

Here’s one final thought, from Cuddy, Kohut and Neffinger: “A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth.”

So is it more important to be liked or be respected? You need both, but before demonstrating the power and authority that commands respect, the most effective leaders start by making a human connection by being warm, approachable, and personable. They start by being well-liked.

So what’s your take? Is it more important to be liked or be respected?

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.com and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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