“When you’re a leader, not everyone will like you” is advice I recently shared with a manager. This manager is not a newbie manager. She’s not inexperienced or passive by nature. Yet, in dealing with a challenging employee situation, she was struggling with doing what needed to be done for fear of others labeling her as “mean” or “uncaring.” I shared with her what I’d previously outlined in my book Don’t Let ‘Em Treat You Like A Girl – A Woman’s Guide to Leadership Success.
Not Everyone Will Like You
The most important leadership lesson I ever learned from my dad - I learned at his funeral.
My dad died of colon cancer in 1992. Four days before he died, I had the opportunity to spend several hours alone with him. During that time, he shared stories of his childhood and stories of other good and bad times in his life. He also shared something that I had never known. Each fall, Dad would personally drive excess clothing and goods from the St. Vincent de Paul store in my hometown in Wisconsin to an Indian reservation in South Dakota. The people on the reservation would then tear up the clothing, weave the cloth into rugs and other products, and sell their work.
In sharing this story, Dad described how the manager from a neighboring St. Vincent de Paul store would not readily cooperate in providing excess clothing nor would he readily contribute money for gas. This man's behavior frustrated my father. The manager stonewalled my dad every year because he didn't believe donating the excess clothing would help more than a direct infusion of cash. However, Dad wanted to help the people on the reservation gain access to needed supplies so they could produce their own products and make their own money, not simply hand money to them. He believed it would help them maintain their dignity, creativity, and self-reliance.
At Dad's funeral, a man approached me to convey his condolences (or so I thought). He shook my hand and introduced himself. His name meant nothing, until he said where he worked and how he had known my father. Then it hit me. This was the man my dad had talked about just four days before! This was the manager from the other St. Vincent DePaul store! After introducing himself the man said, "You know, I never liked your dad." (I tried my best not to interrupt him to ask if he'd ever heard of Funeral Etiquette 101 - i.e., Don't insult the deceased.) But then he continued, "But your father was a good business man. He was a leader."
Those words hit home. This man's need to convey his respect for my dad overrode his personal dislike of my dad.
His comment changed my life and how I viewed my professional responsibilities. From that moment on, I no longer felt the need to please everyone or have everyone like me. Because my dad had stayed true to his beliefs, he had earned this man's respect.
Because of this new awareness, I finally realized that just as I had never liked everyone in school, not everyone had liked me. At work, I didn't like everyone, so why should I care if everyone liked me? I didn't want to be friends with all of the people at work. I simply wanted to work well with them. However, until then, I had run myself ragged trying to please everyone. I had tried to keep them happy and had tried to make sure they were happy with me. No more.
I finally realized I could now focus on doing what I needed to do to the best of my ability and I could forget the rest. Not everyone would like me no matter what I did, because not everyone would share my views. All I could do was do what I believed was right and potentially earn the respect of others. Regardless of the outcome, I'd be comfortable with myself.
Be comfortable with the fact that not everyone will like you at work, in your neighborhood, and in your community activities; they never will.
Jesus, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa weren't liked by everyone. So how can you and I possibly expect to attain 100% adoration? If we try to achieve that, we'll bend and flex so much no one will know what we stand for - including ourselves. Be true to yourself and your values. It’s important that YOU like yourself and what you stand for. When that happens, others will stand with you.