“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure. It is: Try to please everybody.” – Herbert Bayard Swope
One of the challenges that all leaders face is the reality that neither we nor the organizations we lead can do everything we’d like to do. There aren’t enough resources (time, money, whatever) to do it all. So we have to make choices, and, inevitably, there are going to be people who don’t agree with the choices that we make.
A few years ago, I started working with a younger leader who was struggling with that challenge. He was talented, worked hard, was passionate about the company, etc. But he led the company as though his goal was to never make anybody upset. He tried to take on too many things, and he avoided some things that might have been unpleasant, and the result was that rather than never making anybody upset, virtually everybody was upset.
Eventually he had to come to terms with the idea that his job was to do what he thought was best for the organization, communicate that as clearly as possible, and then go with it. That was extremely difficult for him, and it’s something he’s still working on today.
Think about yourself as a leader. When you’re faced with a decision, or you’re trying to solve a problem, what is your number one priority? Is it to do what’s the absolute best thing for the organization? Or is it to do what’s going to make the most people happy?
I’m of course not suggesting that you don’t take anybody else’s opinion into account, or that you just do whatever you want and if anybody doesn’t like it you can tell them to get lost. That’s not in the best interest of the organization either. What I’m saying is simply that if you want everybody to like you, and you want to have “easy” relationships with everyone in your organization, don’t be a leader.
“But,” I hear regularly from leaders, “what if they get mad and leave?” Certainly we aren’t trying to run off our people, especially these days. But the reality is that you have to do what you think is best and then clearly communicate that to people. Paint a picture of why you think this is best, and why this is going to lead the organization to a better place. Acknowledge that you understand they may not agree and you respect that.
If they hear all of that and then decide that isn’t what they want to be part of, then so be it. You can’t be a prisoner to wanting to be liked or wanting to make everybody happy. That’s not what you signed up for when you agreed to lead. Do the job.