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Trying to be liked is the death knell for happiness and success

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Lisa Earle McLeod

Do you want to be liked?

Most of us do. But wanting to be liked by everyone can have a chilling effect on your happiness and success.

I don’t buy into the notion that you have to be a jerk to succeed. But many people are so afraid of being disliked that they stifle themselves. When the need to be liked trumps your best thinking, you’re not doing anyone any favors.

Here are three big fears that hold us back:

  1. Fear of calling out poor performers

I was recently working with a client who told me - in a moment of impressive self honesty - that she had let two employees get away with less than ideal performance. She said “I kept thinking that I should coach them instead of reprimanding them. But the truth is, I didn’t want them to dislike me.”

What happened? The rest of the team took note of the two poor performers and grew increasingly annoyed at their boss for not calling them out. The two poor performers didn’t like the boss more, but the rest of the team liked her less.

Reality check: When you let a slacker slide, whether it be in a corporation, a volunteer organization or even a family, the people who are earnestly doing their best to meet the standards resent you for it.

  1. Fear of retaliation

I was coaching a sales executive who was stuck dealing with a middle level team, who continued to stall on the project. He said, “I’m worried if I do an end run around these people to the CEO, they’ll be angry.”

To which I said, “Of course they’ll be angry. They don’t want to do it. Do you want to please them, or get the job done?”

Leaders ignite change; they create new standards. You can’t accomplish that if your need to be liked outpaces your desire for results.

Case in point, how many parents have had to enforce rules their kids didn’t like (bedtime, homework, etc.), but then had the kids thank them later?

Reframe: If you’re trying to achieve long-term results, accept that there will be moments of short-term discomfort. You don’t have to be a jerk, but you can’t make change and make everyone happy at the same time.

  1. Fear of people talking about you

I confess; I want to be liked too. But I’ve come to recognize that I can’t make everyone happy. Nor do I even want to.

The turning point came when I was the president of my church, which by the way is the least spiritual experience you can ever have.

I was making changes that several members were unhappy about. My worst fears came to pass when I discovered that they were discussing my awfulness at a social gathering. It was high school all over again.

I lamented to a much wiser friend, “They don’t like me.” She said, “I always pay attention to who dislikes a person. If all the people who dislike someone are whiners, that tells me that the person in question is probably a go-getter, who doesn’t coddle people.”

My big aha: I didn’t really like the people who were complaining, why should I care if they didn’t like me?

Trying to please everyone waters down your best ideas, and it causes you to take on work you shouldn’t be doing. Being liked is nice. Being happy and successful is better.

‑ Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant (www.LisaEarleMcLeod.com).

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