A version of this article appeared at Inc.com
When I wrote an article recently touching on the potentially destructive nature of needing to be liked, I knew from my own experience how pervasive a leadership issue it was, but I was unprepared for the response.
Since then, many leaders have contacted me to say how much it resonated for them, and that needing to be loved – let alone liked – was something they struggled with constantly.
Obviously, wanting to be a decent human being is an admirable, commendable trait. But when that desire transforms into neediness, it clouds anyone’s ability to make objective decisions, particularly when other people are involved (which is to say, almost all the time).
So for the benefit of all of us (this is as much a process of self-reflection as anything else), here are the five key steps involved in redirecting an unhealthy need to be loved by those you work with back to what it should be – a healthy desire to be have mature, non-needy relationships with the people you work with:
1. Be much loved elsewhere.
I’m no therapist, and I certainly can’t tell you how to make this happen, but I can pass on one universal observation: Those leaders who experience rich, fulfilling, unconditional love in their non-work environments consistently exhibit much less neediness in their work environments.
Like I say, I’m not qualified to help you fix this particular issue, but if you find you’re consistently undermining your own leadership effectiveness with an unhealthy need to be liked or loved by those you work with, a self-assessment of your non-work relationships might be a great place to start.
2. Where possible, avoid one-on-ones.
Most often, an unhealthy need to be liked shows up in communications during one-on-one discussions. An over-generous response to a screwup; glossing over underperformance; exaggerating your own achievements to look better to the other person – these all happen more easily in one-on-one situations than in a group environment.
Make a resolution to ensure, as much as possible, that you communicate with others in team environments. In those situations where a one-on-one is unavoidable, consider asking one other trusted individual to sit in on the meeting to act as an ‘accountability’ partner and hold you responsible for communicating accurately.
3. Think through interactions in advance.
Most leaders I know who struggle with needing to be liked or loved by others cause problems for themselves when they extemporize. Freewheeling, on-the-fly communications lend themselves to the sorts of self-serving or emotionally manipulative statements that need-to-be-loved leaders let slip.
If you’re one of those leaders, then script yourself ruthlessly. Think through every material interaction you’re due to have today, and write out – yes, physically write out – precisely what you want to communicate, and, more importantly, what your response will be to the most likely information you’ll be given by others.
Hold yourself accountable to communicate precisely and only what you’ve written down. Stay away – for a while at least – from spitballing and extemporizing.
4. Close the feedback window.
Some leaders get their need-to-be-liked endorphins released by constantly asking others for feedback. Under the guise of ‘I want to know the unvarnished truth – how am I doing?‘, what they’re really saying is ‘tell me how much you like me.’ You’ll know if you’re guilty of this – you’ll be blushing just a little as you read this.
5. Do one hard thing.
Identify one hard thing you know you need to do – a performance discussion, a role adjustment or perhaps just giving someone hard feedback. Write your script (see point 3), and go do it. Don’t adorn the discussion, don’t try to make it easier on the other person at the end, don’t make clear your personal feelings about the matter (all that can return after you’re weaned from the need to be liked). Just do it. Rinse and repeat.