Being a manager in our modern era is a much different affair than it was for our parents and grandparents. Most of us have watched movies from the 1950s through the 1990s, including cult (parody) classics like "Office Space". There were even cartoons like "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons" which very much reflected old-time office attitudes and politics. In the office environment of yesteryear, the boss was the ultimate authority and everyone treated him like a potentate or king.
In writing this blog, I tried to think of a time when my parents or grandparents ever complained that their boss didn't "get them" or didn't "care about their feelings". They might have had their issues, but those never seemed to extend to whether or not the boss was likeable. There could be many reasons for that to have been the case. First of all, my parents and especially my grandparents did not fear being laid off. In fact, they knew that as long as they worked hard, had good attendance, and didn't create nuisances, they would be with the same company for an entire 30 year career.
I've thought quite a bit about the dynamics of the American workplace from the advent of the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act, 1938) until the dot-com boom (1995). From what I can surmise, management of that era followed many of the teachings laid out in Machiavelli's "The Prince". In it we find one of the most famous quotes of all time: "It is better to be feared than to be loved." (The unabridged quote: "The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other; but
because it is difficult to combine them, it is far safer to be feared
than loved if you cannot be both)
Managing in today's business climate is different in many ways. There are many people who still rule (manage) by fear, but the balance of power AND attitude has changed dramatically. Unlike our ancestors, many of us expect to be laid off, fired, or to leave our employment voluntarily. In fact, many businesses are awakening to the (literal) existential threat of unplanned turnover and the devastating impact that the loss of "human capital" can cause. There are many statistics about the true cost of losing an employee, especially in an unplanned manner. Just consider the possibility that it could cost you/your company 3x a person's yearly salary to replace them.
These facts are leading to quite a bit of knee-jerk reactions, which in turn lead to management strategies that may not actually be effective. My first inkling of a shift came from the CEO of a company I joined in the last decade. This CEO, quite an intelligent and insightful man, said to me, "Christopher, I judge people I hire on what I call the 'CCL'." He defined the CCL as (C) apability, (C) ompetency, and (L) ikeability. I thought it was interesting that a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company would be concerned with likeability.
Fast forward to life in the corporate world today. With Facebook and practically every other social collaboration tool, people have the ability to "Like" or "Approve" what others say and do. Our society more and more seems to place value on a person, action, or thing based on whether it is liked by others as opposed to its individual merit. And therein lies the dilemma for us managers both personally and as coaches/mentors to those who will follow in our footsteps.
It is a fact that any time you take a stand on anything, someone will be there to resist or oppose you. Need proof? Well, a presidential approval rating of 55% is consider really good. To put that in perspective, if you're a president and 45% of the people oppose you, that means you are a success. So we come to the most important question. Can you be a good or even great manager if people don't "LIKE" you?
This question is one that must be answered on an individual by individual basis. Just remember what it means to be a manager and leader of people. To be effective, you must take stands. You must make decisions that, at least by some people, will be considered very unpopular. You may even have to terminate (lay off) people not because they are poor performers but because the future of your company depends upon it.
Take a look throughout history, both recent and ancient. If your goal is to be popular, become an entertainer and bask in your "LIKES". If you want to be a great leader, bring a book along for the journey. Even if it is satisfying it will be a lonely trip.