Machiavelli said it is better to be feared rather than loved, maybe he was right. Growing up I was taught to be friendly; my mother instilled in me that I should be transformational not transactional in my interactions with both my peers and elders. Certainly I was never encouraged to be Machiavellian! I was encouraged to have a lot of friends and get along with everyone, to be loved. This is not a bad lesson to be taught - being outgoing and sociable are admirable qualities especially in your personal life.
However, your professional life is different and over the years I have unfortunately mistaken friendship for respect. Throughout my career I have tried to assess how well liked I am and mistakenly equated being liked with being organizationally secure. I told myself that if I was well liked I would get the big projects or assignments, opportunities would come my way and I would be retained if there ever was a reduction in the workforce.
But as it turns out this thinking hasn't served me as well in the workplace as I hoped. Without consciously realizing it I focused too much on being liked and not enough on being respected. I monitored the cues of being well liked, but I was less attuned to the indicators of being well respected. Maybe Machiavelli was on the right track, indeed leadership requires being likeable and being respected, but it you are only liked and not respected you won't get very far in your career, in fact you'll get stuck.
I've learned the hard way that being well liked doesn't mean that others will adopt your point of view or vision. Being respected is the key.
The good news is that the more you translate your vision into a compelling story that puts the needs and wants of your key stakeholders at the center the greater your chances of persuading others to adopt your point of view. One of the most important things I have learned is how to frame my vision in the context of others' priorities. In order to do this you have to listen carefully so that you can identify what those interests are. Now, I make a conscious effort to ensure that my conversations focus on what's important to others. By doing this I show that I understand what matters to them and that I am capable of advancing their cause. As result I have gained more respect.
The first step in building respect is to build alliances. Building alliances is different than building friends. Alliances are a form of social capital, but they are strategic, transactional and serve a specific purpose. Allies are willing to listen, give you feedback and inside information. They can effectively articulate your cause when you're not in the room and explain political motivations you may have overlooked. This is very different than having friends.
Building alliances and in turn respect is about establishing trust, paying attention to what others want and using that foundation to leverage your power. As you differentiate between friendships and alliances you will better understand how your actions affect others. You can then use that insight to create positive change and advance your personal mission.
The reality is leadership is not for the faint of heart - gaining respect is hard work - but if you are up to the challenge it is absolutely worth it!
Dr. Bernice Ledbetter is Practitioner Faculty of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management. Her research and teaching interests focus on leadership and values, especially gender differences, as well as on moral developmental and non-western approaches to leadership. Dr. Ledbetter recently started the Pepperdine Center for Women in Leadership to empower and advance women in the workplace.