Is it Better to Be Liked or Respected at Work?

Effective leaders have the ability to make decisions that are right for the business, and for themselves, without worrying about what people may think of them.
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Too often I see professionals confuse the need to be liked with the need to be respected in the workplace.

Both are required but one should definitely be focused on more than the other.

Effective leaders have the ability to make decisions that are right for the business, and for themselves, without worrying about what people may think of them.

In my former corporate career I went from team leader, manager to senior manager in the IT and management consulting industries, and in each role I had to make decisions that not everyone around me was happy with. I was definitely not going for the popularity contest as I realized very early on that I had to do what was right for the business, NOT what would make my colleagues happy.

It may seem important to you that people like you in the workplace -- after all it can help in getting things done. I don't deny that being liked at work can be a very good thing and can help considerably in one's career.

However you should know that not everyone is going to like the decisions you make 100 percent of the time and nor should you be aiming to be 'liked' 100 percent of the time. There will always come a time when something has to be compromised or reconsidered when it comes to projects and goals.

It's important to be able to differentiate yourself as an individual from the decisions you need to make within your organization -- for your organization.

So long as your intentions are good and you make decisions that are right for the organization, department or team, being liked as a person or having your decisions liked by others is not your business.

It is so much more important that people respect you as a person for the decisions you make and your reasons for making your decisions, as well as the way in which you conduct yourself at work.

The more responsibility you take on, particularly as a people manager, the more you will need to detach from the need to be liked by all people at all times. It may not always be easy, but it's the right thing to do.


I remember very early on in my career I ended up on a role in the project management office (PMO) team of a program. There was a more senior woman on the team who had specialized in this area and was very good at setting her boundaries when it came to her workload -- and exploiting others. Being inexperienced in this area of work as well as inexperienced at setting my own boundaries in a healthy way at the time, I ended up taking on some of her work, and often when I didn't have the capacity.

Our PMO manager at the time knew what was going on but was too afraid to push back on the senior female colleague so that the work could be divided in a more equal manner. Instead he let me take the burden and become frustrated (and eventually bitter) in the role until I finally created an exit for myself and moved to a different project altogether.

I had totally lost respect for him as a manager. It was his job to manage the work distribution and instead he let the senior female colleague take advantage of a me, a recent grad at the time who instead of growing, got bogged down with administrative tasks and eventually left.

He would occasionally come over to me to make conversation and ask about my new role as a way to make amends -- again, he had this need to be liked. Of course I lost even more respect for him.

I simply needed him to be a good manager who supported my needs too. Having had amazing managers prior to this experience, it was easy for me to make this distinction.

In my experience I've found it a lot easier to be liked as an individual once people respected me for the choices and decisions I made in the capacity of my role.

Provided I could justify my position on an issue and aimed for a win-win without intentionally putting anyone at a disadvantage in the process, I knew I was doing my job and doing what I was being paid to do.

When people respect your decisions, AND if you're personable, approachable and helpful, it's a great combination to have when it comes to stepping up as a leader.

If you don't believe in yourself, respect your own decisions or stand by your own values, no one else will and that's the quickest way to lose respect even if you are a likeable character.

Being likeable alone without being respected is very limiting when it comes to career progression as winning the popularity contest should not be your goal.

Honor yourself, trust your decisions and be respectful to the people around you when going about your business.

This will set you up nicely when it comes to positioning yourself in the workplace to be considered for a leadership role, or further establishing yourself if you're already in such a position.

Shivani Bhagi is an International Career Success Strategist with a sole mission to help smart, committed professionals take charge of their careers by increasing their self worth and net worth.

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