OPINION: Unless someone is a sociopath, it’s natural that they’ll want people to like them.

In my experience, we all feel a bit of a need to be accepted, respected, and liked and no one (save those aforementioned sociopaths and the odd right-wing political commentator) goes out of their way to get people offside.

Sometimes, our eagerness to be liked, or at least to make decisions that won’t make people dislike us, gets in the way of what is arguably the right thing to do. It’s a leadership conundrum – to make the hard calls and risk disquietude, or do the wrong things, but have people like you?

I’ve been thinking about leadership and the need to be liked recently, especially in the context of the current issue du jour, Covid 19.

If there’s one thing that Covid has been really, really good at (beyond giving an incredible fillip to Zoom’s share price) it’s creating tensions and divisions in society and the workforce. It’s like someone invented the biggest societal meat cleaver they could and deftly swung it straight down on to society.

This tension has been even more pronounced since the announcement a week or two ago that the Government is making vaccination mandatory for some frontline and critical workers – specifically teachers, healthcare workers, and emergency services. I’ve witnessed some interesting responses to the mandate with some of the organisations I’m involved with.

It’s also been interesting to reflect upon the messaging and the strength or otherwise of enforcement and how it relates to our current Government’s focus on kindness.

The difficulty in all of this is that the thing that might be “kind” in the context of longer-term and more widespread health outcomes, might just feel a little unkind when it comes to individual rights and freedom of choice.

I guess the perspective of this humble scribe is that short-term kindness has wrongly been given precedence instead of the more impactful (but less important from a short-term electoral perspective) public-health impacts.

I’m cognizant, however, that it’s a dynamic situation and the Government seems to gradually be moving towards a longer-term and more nuanced view of kindness – watch this space.

An analogy that was mentioned to me recently was that of climbing a mountain. Are we more interested in summiting the mountain, or in reducing the level of discomfort that those on the expedition feel?

If it is the latter, the reality is that we run the very real risk of never making it to the top. In the case of Hillary and Norgay, a preparedness to suffer short-term discomfort resulted in their ability to “knock the bastard off.”

In the even more impactful example of Covid, a focus on sensitivity to those who, for whatever reason, don’t like the idea of mandated vaccinations, may well put at risk our ambition to keep our nation, and all who reside within it, safe.

A good example of what I would class as inspired leadership is to be seen within one organisation I’m involved with. The said organisation had a conversation around its board table that centred around its appetite for risk.

More specifically, how prepared was that organisation to go out on a limb and accept the short-term risk of employee dissatisfaction, in all the ways that can be displayed, versus the very real risks of health impacts of Covid?

Put simply, was that organisation prepared to make some brave calls in order to do its part to secure the long-term health and safety of its workforce and its wider stakeholder group? Was it brave and bold enough to decide that, whatever employment law and Government directives suggested, critical workers had to be vaccinated as its contribution to societal safety?

In the case of this particular organisation, I’m pleased to say that the answer was an emphatic “yes.” The decision was to accept a degree of short term risk to achieve what was deeply believed to be the “right thing” to do: namely keeping people safe.

In another example, one of less inspired leadership, I received an email from the leader of an organisation I’m involved with that went to great lengths to espouse the value of personal choice and individual freedom. While there was a degree of “vaccination is the right thing to do” in there, it was very muted and given much less weight than the “be kind” guidance.

For anyone receiving the email, the inference was clear, freedom of the individual to succumb to misinformation, to put self before others, and to ignore science was more important than the greater good. I also suspect there was a hearty dose of concern about individual staff members angst at being given more clear and emphatic guidance. Perhaps there was the fear of industrial action or some kind of mass walkout from disaffected staff.

No one wants to be unpopular, but that’s the thing: sometimes the right thing to do is also the hard thing to do. When push comes to shove, bravery and boldness are what is needed in leaders.

Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. He’s double-vaxed and has been for months.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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