Why Being Loved has Nothing to do with Being Liked


My dear friend Amy and I were debriefing my TEDx talk recently (Why You Should Stop Searching for Work You Love).  She was there to see it live and in person, and had given me the equivalent of a standing ovation when I spoke with her after the fact—she loved my talk (of course she did, she’s a good friend, remember?)

My talk is about Making People Love You (instead of searching endlessly, fruitlessly for that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, i.e. work you love). But there was one concept she was wrestling with, and as we sat down for scones a few weeks later, she said this—“I’m having a hard time reconciling being liked with being loved?  How do you handle the ‘nice girl’ component of being liked with actually being a leader in your field?”

Amy would know the landmines of that question. She is the former President and Executive Director of a cutting edge non-profit that she recently parted ways with after a break with her Board over strategy.  

She said she felt like being ‘nice’ didn’t jive with having to make the hard decisions every leader is at some point required to make.   And she cited the whole “nice girl” paradox for women—we’ve all seen and read the studies that show a negative correlation between likability and success for women.

So what gives? How can you Make People Love You without being nice; without first making them like you?  

The answer is this—love has nothing to do with like.  Like is for Facebook.  It’s a thumbs-up, thumbs-down kind of thing.  Like is superficial.  It’s fleeting.  One day I like you, the next day I don’t.

Love, on the other hand—is deep and lasting.  It’s about trust, respect, admiration.  Love is about making tough decisions, giving real and meaningful feedback, asking the right questions.

When we aim for “nice” we don’t engender trust, respect, admiration.  Sometimes we get just the opposite—people sense inauthenticity.   When we aim for love, we help build others up—we don’t evaluate our decisions based on “nice” or not, we evaluate our decisions on “is that the right thing to do?”

Being nice might mean not giving a teammate feedback because you don’t want to offend.  Being loved means giving someone feedback precisely because you care—you want to help someone become better—it’s the generous thing to do, even when it hurts (although given the right way, feedback shouldn’t hurt, but that’s a post for another day).   

Generosity is a big component of love— it means sharing your time, your talents, your energy, your network, feedback, credit—sharing it all.   Generosity is about making other people’s lives (your team, your boss, your clients’) better or easier.   That’s a surefire way to make people love you.

Finally, consider this—like is limiting and prescriptive – it inhibits our behavior (I shouldn’t do this because it’s not nice, or I should do this because I want him to like me).  Love is empowering and challenging—it expands our thinking—how should I approach this situation to get to the best outcome for my boss, my team, or my board of directors?

Would love to hear your thoughts!