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Is Your Leadership Brand Love or Respect? Which Should it Be?
It is a choice to be loved or respected as a leader or as a brand. Which is the right choice?
There is common link between your leadership style, call it your personal leadership brand, and the kind of brand relationship you have with your customers. Namely, you have a choice to make: do you want to be respected or loved?
Let me explain.
Let’s start by thinking about your approach to leadership. Many leaders, especially those steeped in a military tradition, will often say that they’d rather be respected than loved. When they say that, they mean that they want the people reporting to them to follow their orders and get their work done without needing a hug to make to happen. It can be a very effective approach in leading an organization.
On the flip side, you have leaders who choose to focus entirely on how they can inspire the people reporting to them to rise above their normal level of performance and innovation. These are leaders who, as I wrote in my book Great CEOs Are Lazy, prioritize wearing the “Coach’s Hat”: their entire goal is to build a safe and accepting environment where people are encouraged to do their best work. Leaders like this can be very effective at getting people to perform at superior levels.
And yet, there is no right or wrong answer here about being respected or loved. But it does represent a conscious choice you need to make as a leader. In truth, you probably fall somewhere in the middle along a 10-point spectrum on each of these axis. And there can be times, like in a down market, where being respected is more effective than being loved, while boom times might require more love than respect.
What’s interesting is how you can make this same kind of distinction when it comes to the kind of relationships you build with your customers. Do you have a brand that they respect or do they love it?
When it comes to respected brand, the car company BMW comes to mind. Their combination of high-performance, quality materials, and precise engineering results in cars that people respect for being some of the best driving machines on the planet.
Now think of a brand like Harley-Davidson. While Harleys might not be considered the best performing motorcycles, their customers absolutely love them. The passion these customers feel for the company rises to what we might call “tattoo-level” in that people love the company so much they are willing to permanently attest to that with some ink on their skin. Another thing is that Harley customers enjoy being with each other in a community, where they wear clothing emblazoned with the company’s logo and travel for miles to hang out with each other on their bikes.
Again, there is no right or wrong answer here to whether you are respected or loved. And the approach you and your company takes might fall somewhere in the middle. But if you begin to use this framework to think about the kinds of decisions you make as both a leader and as a brand, it can really help clarify the strategies and messages you share moving forward.
So, do you want to be loved? Or respected?
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.