Why Your Staff Doesn’t Like You Very Much

Throughout our careers, many of us have all kinds of aspirations. We want to move up up up in our organizations. We want better titles and more money.

And we want to supervise other people.

And oh, we think, how our staff will love us! How they will appreciate our guidance and our feedback! And we, together as a team, will not just meet, but exceed our organizational goals! Hurrah!

And then we actually became supervisors. And we realized the hard truth.

If you are a supervisor your staff might not like you very much.

If you are a supervisor and you are doing your job well, they probably don’t.

And…here’s what many don’t know. That’s okay.

So why don’t they like you? Consider two big reasons.

Reason #1 – the things you say

As a leader, in addition to offering all kinds of support and kudos to staff when things go right, you also need to hold them accountable when they don’t.

It’s a difficult prospect for most people. It’s even worse in the nonprofit sector, filled with committed, passionate adults, rallying around an often-emotional cause.

The result? Many supervisors avoid those hard conversations.

We don’t want to be too critical. We don’t want to hurt feelings. We don’t want to make things uncomfortable.

I’ve been there. My first time around I was unable or – more accurately – unwilling to have hard conversations with my staff. These people were passionate…they were intense…they were my buddies. They were good people. And to be real honest? They liked me. And that felt good.

Then I realized that my failure to provide critical feedback meant my organization suffered.

We weren’t improving in our work and we weren’t as effective as we could be.

And I knew I had to sit up straight, look staff in the eye, suppress the nausea, and do it.

I talked to staff who had a good heart but weren’t performing.

I talked to staff who were performing, but had a terrible attitude.

I had hard conversations around lack of punctuality and lack of organization.

I discussed issues around verbals and non-verbals, and inappropriate dress.

Sometimes things were okay afterwards. And sometimes they weren’t.

And eventually I realized it didn’t necessarily matter. Because I knew my organization was better for it.

Reason #2 – the decisions you make

As leaders, we must make hard, unpopular decisions for the good of our organizations.

I restructured programs and brought in external partners. I cut programs and moved our offices to a different location. I changed our vacation policies and adjusted titles.

And while I thought through each of these choices, got appropriate feedback before finalizing them, and always gave reasons as to why I did what I did, sometimes that wasn’t enough.

They still didn’t think I got it. They still thought I was unfair. They still didn’t like me.

Remember…Change is hard. Feedback is hard.  

You might choose your words carefully (and you should), and you might be consistent and fair (and you should), and it simply might not matter.

They won’t like it. And they won’t like you because of it.

And it feels terrible. So find external, appropriate support to remind you that you’re still a good person and, more importantly, that you’re a great leader.

Let me be the first to assure you that you are.

So know that if you’re not liked it’s common. And chances are it’s a sign that you’re doing something right.

And the truth is, even if it doesn’t feel like it, some staff will like you for the very reasons others don’t.  And, believe it or not, even those who don’t might one day grow to appreciate you, too.

But also consider this.

If you’re a leader who is beloved by every single person right now, you just might be doing something wrong.

Now, go do good…and do it well.





6 responses to “Why Your Staff Doesn’t Like You Very Much”

  1. Christy Wilson Avatar

    Deirdre – thank you for this very timely blog. We have just finished budget planning for 2011, and granted increases for the first time in three years. Staff was expecting more and yet we were completely in-line with our benchmarks in other community foundations. What they forget is that they suffered no cut backs in salary or hours in the last three years, nor did they lose any benefits.
    They are not very happy with me/the Board right now, but I guess that comes with the territory.
    It is not a personal decision, it is business – tough some days!

  2. Tom Basquill Avatar

    Great post, Deirdre! I think it is really important to be reminded that doing what is best for the organization or for the people involved is often hard and uncomfortable.

    It is also good to remember that our supervisors are also doing what they think is the right thing to do, even though it might upset us. Yeah, it doesn’t feel good when we are approached about punctuality, organizational habbits, etc., but sometimes we need that extra push, and sometimes we are doing things poorly without even realizing it.

    I’m in a Nonprofit Leadership Institute right now put on by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and we’re learning about the idea of “adaptive leadership.” I wrote a blog post about it on the YNPN – Twin Cities blog here – http://ow.ly/3160o . One of the keys to adaptive leadership is understanding that those uncomfortable, stomach-churning moments are really important and necessary for real change and improvement to happen. We all need to, on some level, become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

  3. Dana Lucka Avatar

    Amen! Having those frank, honest conversations will not win any popularity contests just as being a good parent doesn’t make you the “cool” parent.

    Organizations need a “moral compass” and an honest advocate. Often this means having to say the “difficult” things that no one wants to say (around here….its the “elephant” on the coffee table conversation that gets avoided). Truthfully, I have walked in to positions being left to mop up after someone who walked the path of least resistence…….staff who were left operating with terminally bad habits cemented in place with YEARS of “outstanding” performance reviews.

    Its hard to be seen as the bad guy but ultimately the organization is healthier for the change.

    Great post!!

  4. Sue Schaffner Avatar

    Thanks Deirdre,
    It is so hard not to be liked. But if I was liked all the time, I guess I would not be doing my job!
    This post was so timely.

  5. […] We talked about this a bit in my blog Why Your Staff Doesn’t Like You Very Much. […]

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