“How can I get anything accomplished when I have to be worried all the time about whether people like me?”
Is this thought familiar to you? It’s a common frustration for the leader who is committed to employee engagement and positive culture, yet has responsibility for making change and driving performance as well. Is it necessary to have to choose between pleasing others and performing?
This piece from Harvard Business Review offers specific about what an over-focus on being liked leads to: paralysis, over-inclusion, accommodation, tolerating poor performance. Have you seen this in action?
There is the leader who won’t make a decision and implement actions for fear of backlash. Then there is the leader who is constantly convening “input” meetings and polling people through formal and informal ways. You see a leader consumed with putting out small, internal fires in the spirit of keeping people happy, regardless of whether these actions support the progress of the business. And then there is the leader who doesn’t hold others accountable for performance.
And what is the business impact of this “pleasing” dynamic? In a word, significant.
When a leader is always in "pleasing" mode, employees may deliver sub-par performance, and may also grow confused and/or frustrated. Necessary decisions and changes may not emerge. The business may plateau as “a nice place” but a moderate performance company, and likely eventually succumb to better performing companies.
There is deep personal toll for the leader as well, including loss of a sense of their personal identity and authenticity, and devastating damage to their confidence because they cannot deliver performance beyond “not rocking the boat.”
In this age of engagement surveys, Glassdoor reporting, and high job-mobility, the pressure is real to have a positive culture, and genuine relationships with all colleagues (not just direct reports). So how do you strike the balance between driving performance and maintaining positive relationships? Here are 7 tips:
For individuals working on escaping the trap of feeling that one must please others or perform, give yourself time and find outside resources like coaches and training to help with your own change process.
Be ready for discomfort as you try new ways of thinking and behaving – these are positive indicators that you are learning and changing.
With purposeful work and patience, individuals and companies can shift from “or” to “and”: performance is high and people are pleased and engaged. Now that’s a that’s a company to watch out for!
Note: An earlier version of this piece was published by Synergy Consulting Services on November 30, 2015.