For subscribers only

10 Reasons Why Friendliness Is a Leadership Necessity

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams

We have often heard, "It's a dog-eat-dog world."  The trouble is that some leaders believe it. They behave like the alpha dog in a pack, holding sway through intimidation. This instinctive behavior helps ensure survival in a dog world but applied to the human world of organizational dynamics; it can lead to disaster. 

Alpha dog leadership can eventually destroy the people, their organization, and their leaders. To use another common metaphor, "That dog won't hunt."  

Leaders do nothing more important than getting results, and the best results are what I have been teaching for more than two decades, "more results faster, continually."  An alpha-dog leader might chew up people to get more results and get them faster. Still, I submit that it takes a different personality trait to engender the "continually" aspect of the imperative. That trait is not the despot modeled by such leaders; it is... well, friendliness. 

Having a friendly attitude as a leader means forgetting the alpha-dog way of leadership. It means being gentle, kind, helpful, and cordial in your relationships, even in times of anger and stress -- ESPECIALLY in times of anger and anxiety. Here are ten reasons friendliness gets far more results than an alpha-dog way. 

(1) We stay in control. Alpha-dog leaders look to control others. But they misconstrue what control means. In truth, such leaders are out of control much of the time since they are at the mercy of their emotional outbursts and the reactions of others to those outbursts. In leadership, the best way to control a situation, i.e., the best way to get impressive results, is to put the people in control. Do not constrain them through short-term compulsion but liberate them by playing the "long game."  Unleash their initiative and creativity by allowing them to make free choices. They will be under your "control" in more profound and effective ways than the alpha-dog leader could imagine. 

(2) People respond more openly and positively to friendliness. Humans seek happiness, and friendliness is a beautiful way to spread joy. It enables you to communicate much more effectively because it bonds you with others in ways that anger, coercion, and intimidation cannot. And that bonding is the stuff that impressive results flow from. 

(3) We are modeling good interactions, bringing the future into the present. Whether leaders know it or not, the people carefully watch their words and their actions they lead. People have an instinctive need to model those words and actions, or if they disagree with them, speak and act in opposite ways. By radiating friendliness, leaders are the means of the ends in the making. 

(4) We make factual issues relevant factors, not false issues like anger and intimidation. Friendliness tends to clarify matters; pressure, associated with fear, irritates them. So often, intimidating leaders make themselves and their tormenting ways the issue. The factual issues should be, how do we get results, how do we get more results, how do we get faster results, and how do we get "more, faster" continually? The fear they provoke is like crack cocaine, temporarily stimulating but addictive and, overall, destructive to the leader and the people.

(5) With friendliness, we set the agenda. "A good offense is the best defense" applies with charity. It would help if you were on the offense with friendliness, displaying it even in challenging circumstances when it may take an act of disciplined courage on your part. This helps you set the plan about how people respond to one another in these circumstances. Of course, your friendliness will not affect some people who may be determined to subvert your leadership no matter your attitude; however, charity can, like clearing brush lines to have a forest fire, keep hatred from spreading deeply into the organization. 

Lead by example by making it a habit to take the blame, saying, “I’m sorry, let us look at what happened together,” instead of saying “I don’t recall” or “I never said or did that. “Showing charity in our world will set a stage for creativity and freedom instead of fear of dread and job concerns. —words and actions matter. Lead by example with kindness, always.

(6) We increase the chance that others will support our cause. The truth is that leaders cannot motivate anybody to do anything. The people make a choice to be inspired or not. Friendly leaders have the best chance of creating an environment where people make that choice. As Abraham Lincoln said, "If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing him of the justice of your cause if indeed that cause is a good one."   

(7) Our opponents can be put off balance. As a leader, you will often have people working against you, spoiling for a fight; when they meet a friendly attitude on your part, they may be thrown off balance in benignly effective ways. Furthermore, your friendliness can encourage others to take your cause against them. 

(8) With friendliness, everybody has an opportunity to win. Unfriendly leaders often win battles but lose wars. They may compel others to get on board, but if those do so out of compulsion and not genuine conviction and motivation, the fruits of any victories can become ashes. Most people welcome friendliness -- even if they disagree with and dislike the leader. Furthermore, our charity can prompt the people we interact with to reflect on their character, a prerequisite for their choosing to be motivated. In an environment of friendliness, all parties have an opportunity to achieve something positive. 

(9) Friendliness is fire prevention equipment against your burning bridges behind you. An opponent may seem to be your opponent today, but you may need them to be your partner in implementing changes in the future. Friendliness allows us to have productive relationships even with those who oppose us, enriching both the present and the future.

(10) Getting results through friendliness can take less energy than getting results through coercion and intimidation. Friendliness is not an absolute necessity in leadership. I have seen great leaders who were terrific curmudgeons. It is just that unfriendly people must go through a lot more trouble getting people motivated. 

Two caveats.

One, friendliness can be mistaken for weakness. Friendliness can BE a weakness if it manifests as avoiding challenging people to do the hard things to get impressive results. In leadership, friendliness has a clear function: people achieve constantly improving outcomes. This entails challenging people to do what they often do not want. Anybody can be nice to them and let them do what they want. But a leader must continually challenge people to struggle mightily for extraordinary results. If friendliness does not help you fulfill that function, then it is simply a lifestyle choice, not a leadership tool, and in terms of leadership, a weakness. 

Even if you use it as a vital leadership tool, you certainly cannot be friendly 100 percent of the time. If you try to be, you will become a one-dimensional leader. One of the most challenging accomplishments facing any leader is simply being who you are –especially under pressure. To force-fit friendliness in a situation where you might not ordinarily show it or to use charity to manipulate people into conforming to your wishes is not the best leadership use of friendliness. 

It may be a dog-eat-dog world, but by progressing in the Way of friendliness, leaders can invest their lives and this world with moments of beauty and meaning and get more results in the bargain.

Subscriber content only

To access this content and all of our unlimited content subscribe now