How to Lead People Who Don’t Like You

Last week I heard from a loyal reader in California who asked me this question:

“How do you deal with sales people who clearly are not into you as a manager or leader? I feel like this is a problem you have never had. I am hoping I am wrong.”

The good news is that he is wrong. Anyone with a leadership job will eventually find themselves leading people who don’t like them.

The fact that someone on your team “isn’t that into you” is a realization that can be suddenly apparent, but more often is gradual. The “sudden” awareness is often tied to you getting a promotion leading a team where one or two people on that team were vying for the same job and lost out. The “gradual” can be tied to a range of personality and broader attitude issues that you have little control over.

Since most of us think of ourselves as likable, running across someone who gives off vibes of not liking us can be, well….shocking. “How can they not like me?”, we ask ourselves. My advice is to not worry about it and consider these strategies for excelling while realizing that none of us commands universal love from everyone we work with:

1. Focus on the Mission. Everyone doesn’t have to like each other in order to accomplish objectives together. While companies like to use a lot of family imagery when they talk about culture, the reality is that this is a temporary arrangement; you’ll all move on to other opportunities either inside or outside the company in the future. But as long as you’re together, everyone has a job to do and “like” doesn’t need to have anything to do with “accomplish”.

2. Don’t Suck Up. Do not waste time trying to get these people to like you. Doing this likely won’t work and, even worse, will achieve the opposite result. Instead, focus on being clear and competent. People can respect you even if they don’t like you. And in a professional setting, “respect” is more important than “like”.

3. Be a Leader. Great leaders figure out how to draw from the strengths of their team despite personality friction. A great example of this is the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin which explores how Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with a collection of former adversaries and prickly personalities to achieve his desired results. Why should anyone consider you to be a good leader if you can only work with people who like you? Do you think everyone liked Eisenhower or George Washington? Probably not. Don’t worry if someone doesn’t love you — worry about how you’re going to draw from their strengths.

4. Be Aware of Information Silos. When people don’t get along on a team, the first place I tend to see it is in the lack of information sharing. Watch out! This is where the impact of personality conflict can sink a team. You need to be proactive to make sure that you’re receiving the unvarnished information you need to manage the group. People who don’t like the person they’re reporting to will avoid engaging and are inclined to sit on information rather than sharing. This requires the “clear and competent” approach I referenced in point two above.

5. Know When to Cut Ties, There is a difference between normal personality friction and hostility. There is also a difference between someone who doesn’t perfectly align with your style and someone who is culturally toxic within your team. When people are more that latter than the former, help them move on to a situation that better suits their personality. Some of the best moves I’ve made have been when I recognized this and made a move.

The first few times you experience this can be troubling, but over time it becomes a normal part of living in a society. Not everyone is the same, and thank goodness for that. Diversity of experience and insights can make a team stronger. It is your job to figure out how to make that happen.

Good luck!


Originally published at Michael Diamond.