Okay...on with the business.
I read this post from Harvard Business Review's blog this morning and it resonated so strongly with me that my next stop after reading it was to Constructive Summer to write about it. The gist of the post is that leaders are expected to be nice and that many leaders decide to to just be nice because being liked just makes everything easier. The author goes on to outline a few ways in which this instinct to Just Be Nice is detrimental both to the leader and those they are tasked with leading.
My favorite line from this post goes like this: Nice is only good when it's coupled with rational perspective and the ability to make difficult choices.
Most of the leaders I admire have the quality of being tough but fair. They have the capacity to do the thing that needs to be done or say the thing that needs to be said with very little concern with whether people like them. Respect? Yes. Like? Not so much.
The reason this post resonated with me is that I think that we worry too much as Future Library Leaders about whether or not we're liked and not enough about whether or not we're respected. And when I say we, I mean it. I worry about it, too. But I think the author of this blog post is right about nice. Nice doesn't work in our favor when it clouds our judgement and keeps us from making the decisions that, while right for our Associations and Libraries, cause people to dislike us.
But the unexpected side effect of tough but fair leadership is that the people who carry themselves this way in the world end up being people we like. We appreciate their capacity for frankness and the steady way in which they guide us. With tough but fair leaders at the helm, we rarely doubt the course of our ship. And if you've ever tried to exude this quality in your own life, you know just how difficult it is to pull off. It requires self-awareness, a thick skin, and the understanding that being respected is so much more important than being liked.
No matter your leadership role, every decision you make has a downside for somebody. And as hard as you try, as long as you're a leader there will always be someone who thinks you're a jerk. But choosing the fear of not being liked over doing the right, less lauded, thing doesn't do anybody any good. Even those--no, especially those, you mean to protect by your inaction.
I think that the key to choosing being respected over being liked is the network of people you surround yourself with. When Doing Hard Things, we have to surround ourselves with people who can provide feedback and support. Doing Hard Things is difficult enough when you have support. Going it alone makes it feel impossible.
It's not impossible to couple niceness with rational perspective and the capacity to make difficult choices, but it is hard. And if one of those has to go, it should probably be niceness.