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Unlearn the need to be liked

Your measures of success should be based on long and short term goals


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If there’s one thing I’ve seen handcuff more executives than anything else, it’s the need to be liked (NTBL). It’s nice to be liked. Most of us want friends and family who like us so that we can share our time together, be comfortable and be able to let our hair down. That’s a good thing! Being around people you know don’t like you is not enjoyable. Your guard is up, you are wary and can’t relax. (Whether or not they truly do not like you or you just assume that they don’t is another matter.)

The problem arises when you need everyone to like you. When your need to please becomes irrational and causes you to take actions that are detrimental to yourself or your company in order to please someone else and short-term pleasantries are more important than productive relationships.

If you can recall a time in high school when you did something really dumb because you wanted to impress the cool kids, you know the feeling. Remember the kid who was the class clown? He or she had a bad case of NTBL. Some people may have this trait because of events in their childhood or relationships they’ve had. As a coach, I don’t delve into those root causes, rather I work on how we can create a better future.

If you have NTBL, you are aware of it even if you haven’t publicly admitted it. You’ve held back with peers, avoiding tough issues rather than being assertive. You haven’t shared all the constructive criticism you should have so that you wouldn’t offend them. You’ve accepted lots of meetings that you really didn’t need to be in. Here’s the deal: it’s OK if some people don’t like you. In fact, as a leader, if some people don’t, you have a severe case of NTBL.

There’s one person that you really need to have like you in order to reduce your NTBL and that is you! The affirmation you need should come from yourself, not others.

The process to reduce NTBL requires only two things. (Simple but hard.) First, you need to define what success is—both long term and short term. Then you need to shoot for those objectives and pretty much ignore feedback or condemnation from those who you don’t need to listen to. Create a daily review process for yourself and focus on what you are doing well. Without a guidepost — a measure of success that you believe in — you will always be dependent upon the opinions of others.

Another thing that will help is to find a few people who are supportive but will tell you the truth and give constructive criticism. This is not about putting your head the sand, you need to continue to improve. Create a structured way to get feedback from them.

If you have issues from childhood blocking a healthy self-esteem, get some help from a professional — no one should be haunted by the need for approval from ghosts of the past.

Your professional goals in the long and short term should not rely on whether or not anyone agrees with or likes you. Develop your internal measures of success and free yourself from the need for others to define who you should be and what you should do.

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