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Posted: May 01, 2013

Do you want to lead or be loved?

You probably can't have both

Todd Ordal

I believe the following to be policy and results focused, not political, but just in case… I’m Todd Ordal, and I approved this message.

It’s nice to be liked and loved; it’s just not an effective goal for a leader. If more leaders worried less about upsetting people, the world might be a better place in the long run.

I was a great fan of Margaret Thatcher, but we all gravitate toward people whose beliefs we share. I don’t know exactly where mine came from. They could’ve come from being a business owner, risking my own capital. Maybe from working in a union environment in college and watching people game the system. Perhaps because capitalism has saved many more lives than socialism.

Maybe because I’ve seen successful, ethical businesses provide gainful employment and lots of joy for thousands of workers. Regardless, I think Thatcher was one of the most effective leaders of our time — and she had to upset people to achieve that. By the way, she wasn’t perfect, only successful.

The union workers I worked with were overpaid and underworked. Slamming a six-pack of beer on break and then getting back on a forklift was common. Threatening those who worked too fast — yes, I was one of them — probably seemed like good practice for them to keep others employed.

They weren’t bad people; a bad system misled them. They probably didn’t think about how their work habits affected the price you paid for the product we distributed.  They didn’t mine coal, but Maggie would’ve justifiably kicked their rear ends, and it would’ve made them mad.

Clarity of vision, strongly held beliefs and consistency in action are exactly what we want from our leaders, whether in business or government. Avoiding short-term pain to the organization’s long-term detriment is milquetoast in elected officials and business leaders. I’m sure there’s a special place in hell for those who kick the can down the road.

Business leaders aren’t hired to make friends; they’re hired to get results. Getting results through collaborating, sharing rewards, having fun, being transparent and fostering commitment rather than compliance are good techniques! However, this doesn’t mean using these practices will make everyone love you.

Your mother wasn’t evil because she made you eat peas, and Thatcher wasn’t evil because she made hard decisions for the long-term benefit of the country she loved. Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” If she’d been a businessperson, she might’ve said, “Being loved is a nice concept unless you want the organization to prosper over the long term.”

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at,  303-527-0417 or

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Readers Respond

You're right Elizabeth. The title, by the way, was not my original. It was re-written by CoBiz. By Todd Ordal on 2013 05 01
Thank you Todd. I understand you said a leader shouldn't be hated. But you did mention in your title that "you probably can't have both" and I believe that yes you can have both! That is what a GREAT leader is all about! It's easy to be a cut throat leader and get results. It's much more rare to "have both". Most of the GREATEST leaders do! Thanks for your article! By Elizabeth on 2013 05 01
Elizabeth--I'm not advocating attempting to be hated so believe we are saying the same thing. As you said, "fine line." Stephen--I agree that starting with a clear vision is the first step. If the vision, values and strategy are clear, the decisions are easier and defensible. By Todd Ordal on 2013 05 01
Nicely said Todd. To your point good people skills are crucial for successful leaders to have. Being decisive and making decisions that may be unpopular for the good of the organization adds a second dimension. Having and communicating a clear vision and values constantly helps people know how to do the job they are there to do. In many organizations employees come and go, just because you told one group about your vision, values and purpose once doesn't mean employees who join later will get the message, or that the first people were listening. By Stephen Moulton on 2013 05 01
I do agree that leaders should get results. However being hated and getting results does not make an ideal leader. A true and effective leader can set high expectations and motivate people to get results while at the same time being benevolent. That does not mean NOT making hard chocies. It means making those choices while at the same time skillfully considering the whole picture. Workers can understand hard choices and their consequences when they know their leader is fair and benevolent. It's a fine line to walk and the very best leaders are able to do it with ease. By Elizabeth on 2013 05 01
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