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Personal Challenge for Change Leaders #1: The Need to Be Liked

If we are truly creating the change we seek, not everyone will be clapping for us. The greatest possibility for change making lies in trust and respect, not superficial popularity.

Creating change is as much an internal journey as it is an external one. To generate equitable and lasting change, we must source our deepest values, while strategically and simultaneously shifting systems and solving the problems we are addressing (Radical Transformational Leadership). In order to lead from this conscious full-spectrum approach, we must learn to not only look at how to partner, collaborate, design and measure change, but also engage in personal reflection on what we ourselves are bringing to the table as leaders. With a few key personal practices in place, roadblocks that were once personal derailments can simply be bumps in the road that can be navigated. This series will introduce several of these practices for our leadership journey.

This brings us to a deeply personal reflection, and yet one that is critical for creating equitable and sustainable change. And that is our need to be liked. The need to be liked comes from our common socialized fears such as not being good enough or abandonment. Sourcing our action from these fears can limit our power as a leader and can become roadblocks to reaching transformative results.

I have seen the need to be liked limit progress time and again, experiencing it in one-on-one situations, teams and multi-sector partnerships. The need to be liked can not only impede our own efficacy as a leader, but it can permeate an entire organization’s culture to the point that risks aren’t taken, tough conversations aren’t had and authenticity is bulldozed by superficial feedback that does nothing to advance the mission you are working so hard to realize.

Dr. Monica Sharma shares in Radical Transformational Leadership that 'leaders can either be liked or they can be trusted'. If we are more attentive to our own image in the eyes of others than we are to the results we wish to seek, we may not do what is truly necessary to push change. If we are really changing the status quo, we cannot expect everyone to be clapping for us. Shifting old patterns and “the way it has always been” is hard, and resistance should be expected. Releasing ourselves from the need to be ‘liked’ allows us the freedom to make hard choices in the service of the problem and systems we are shifting.

Robyn, a Senior Practitioner with Impact Launch and a change leader on youth and homelessness issues, shares:

"While leading a countywide systems change on homeless program assessments and placement, I was frequently confronted with my desire to be liked as an obstacle to achieving the results we were working to create. One of my responsibilities as the leader of the project was to instruct and hold accountable the individual agency directors to make big changes in their policies. Often, they would resist the changes, either explicitly or subtly. I had to put aside my natural desire and tendency to please others, and respectfully insist that the changes be made in the spirit of making access to services more equitable for the people we were serving. If you find yourself coming up against your own need to be liked by others, it can be extremely helpful to remind yourself of what you are working towards and let that vision give you the courage to risk others' displeasure or even anger. It stretches my comfort zone not to be liked, but I choose to be trusted and create results."

3 Ways to Shift Needing to Be Liked to Being a Trusted Leader that Generates Results:

1. Commit to not taking the resistance personally, in the service of the larger goal and your own deepest values. Identify what is changing that is giving rise to the resistance and celebrate it!

2. Notice, name and release the fear that arises when you are facing resistance and continue to take action.

3. Deepen the partnership by focusing on the larger purpose of the work you are doing together and finding shared values.

Shebreh, a Senior Practitioner with Impact Launch and community change consultant and grant writer demonstrates all three of these tactics in her example:

"I was serving with a county-wide coalition that worked on youth drug and alcohol use prevention. In this role I was invited to sit on a county board of supervisors appointed commission to develop local policies for cannabis cultivation. The commission was made up with a majority of individuals from the cannabis industry. I was quite alone at the start in my position to adopt regulations that put in place stricter guidelines to safe guard against use and access by youth. When some members on the commission began labeling me and calling me names such as 'prohibitionist', I had to put aside my desire to be liked and not take the name calling personally. If I took it personally, I would likely get angry and work from a space of destructive anger rather than principled outrage. I reminded myself of why I was serving on this commission, what the greater impact my coalition and I were working towards, which was wellbeing. When I identified that for myself, and invited others on the commission to define wellbeing to be inclusive of all, it shifted the dynamic and the narrative. I was still not 'liked' by everyone on the commission, but I didn't need to be. I was respected and trusted to create a space of mutual agreement on a shared larger vision."

Noticing our need to be liked, and focusing on the impact we want to have through the results we aim to achieve, can help us cultivate the courage to continue, and a culture within our teams, organizations and partnerships that leads to deep trust and respect. This is an incredibly powerful space for change.

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." - Andre Lourde



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