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Leaders who want to be liked tend to make wrong decisions

Huge differences between open and denied responsibility






Decisions of leaders who want to be liked are based on different criteria to those made by leaders who do not care about their popularity among employees: whereas the first ones intend to make the whole staff happy the second ones focus on increasing the performance of the team.

Managerial decisions materialize in either ways – in the end it depends how openly leaders have to take responsibility or not. 5 recent experiments at the Universities of Michigan and Florida brought up convincing evidence: leaders who want to be liked do make performance-oriented decisions, too, if they can hide behind somebody else as the alleged decision-maker and pretend it was not their fault that the specific decision went that way. In case an unpopular decision would get stuck with them under all circumstances, these leaders prioritize sometimes against better knowledge a decision agreeable to the employees.

The researchers point out that leaders who want ot be liked do behave here similarly to politicians. It´s not the quality of work which dominates decision-making but the opportuniity better or worse to increase one´s own popularity.

To lead or to be liked: When prestige-oriented leaders prioritize popularity over performance. Case/Bae/Maner, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2018, 115(4), 657-676.



From the practice:

Any leader knows: unpopular deicsions are part of the game and necessary – for instance if beloved traditions which are nowadays not justifiable anymore have to be left behind although the majority of voters, party hacks or employees would never change them.

Having worked with so many clients in so many different fields my observations tell that politicians are more successful with delaying decisions or denying responsibility. In politics where performance is not typically defined and evaluated by numbers it attracts much less (if even) attraction when decisions are based primarily on the rule of popularity. In the economy, though, often leaders of the second level solidarize with their teams and lay the blame on the top amangement for controversial decisions.

I have identified 2 potential hazards which could be a dilemma for you as a leader: 1. If you are more friend than superior and 2. if you are not able to communicate changes motivatingly. In the first case you need coaching, in the second one communication training.

To be liked as a leader is nothing bad after all and does not contradict in general to performace increase oder the implementation of new routines. But to avoid sustainable measures just to become or stay everybodys darling can jeopardize a lot. Please keep that in mind.

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