Trick Questions
This is my site Written by Alora on October 14, 2009 – 4:33 pm

Some questions are just a trick. The interview process is full of these: there really is no right or wrong answer. The point is just to read something into which option you pick. My favorite of these is the famous one: “Which is more important to you: being liked or being respected?”

As a boss, project manager and organizational leader, the problem is that this question is a bigger trick question than for the average person. I am someone who is expected to get things done. Now, the reality is, most of those things I do not do myself. I get them done by organizing and mobilizing a team of specialists to execute against a plan of action. So that means that my success is dependent on other people.

One of the first lessons I learned as a 24-year-old project manager was that it does not matter which I prefer. What truly matters is what my team needs. And the real danger to this question is that different people need different things.

I used to have a gentleman on my team who was notoriously prickley. Being friends was not part of his MO when it came to work. He had a job to do, he was there to do it. Fuzzy friendly stuff was of no use to him. What was important for me was to understand that. Who cares if what I want is to be liked? The fact is that trying to get that guy to like me was not what he needed from me. All he cared about was respect — whether he felt respected and whether he respected the people around him. “Like” was not part of his equation, and people who wasted time on it were not ones he respected.

Conversely, I had another person on my team who needed a ‘big sister.’ He needed a boss (to be sure), but he needed one with velvet gloves: someone who could be sensitive to his needs, who could guide and advise him, who could encourage and support him, who could help him make plans to meet goals, etc. Yes, he respected me. But that was only possible because he liked and trusted me first and foremost.

One of the biggest failures I see in leaders is assuming that one-size-fits-all leadership works. It doesn’t. People are not IT systems. You can’t configure them to your convenience, turn them on and then walk away.

If you have people on your staff, they are individuals working for an individual — and you failing to meet their need as a manager is the single biggest cause for their departure. So the best way not to fail, is not to assume that everyone responds to the same carrots the same way. Some really do prefer the stick.

So these days, my answer to the question of whether I think it is more important to be liked or respected is simple: “Who cares what is more important to me? The question that really matters is, ‘What’s more important to my team?'”