Leading Beyond Likes: The Challenge of Decision-Making in Leadership


If you like to be liked, leadership will be a challenge. Discover how to lead effectively, even when your choices aren't popular.

I like to be liked.

You’ve said hundreds of times things like, “I don’t care if I’m liked or not,” or “Take it or leave it,” but those statements mainly were deflections.

I like to be liked. You do, too. It’s natural. Human.

And that’s a problem for leaders. 

Leaders Aren’t Ever Completely Liked

Have you heard the phrase, “If nobody’s mad, you’re probably not leading“?

I used that quote as an excuse a time or two, but regardless, the statement is true to an extent. 

The more people you have following, the more opportunity there is for frustration. The reason is simple: Leaders must make decisions, and not everyone will agree with your decision.

Sometimes, we make bad decisions and must apologize. We often make the right decision based on what we know, but not everyone agrees or knows what we know.

A Recent Example

My oldest daughter and her new husband just put a contract on a home. It’s an exciting time.

I went to see the home with them and met the selling agent. As they signed the contract, the agent discovered that I once served as the lead pastor of Woodstock City Church. This revelation often leads to interesting conversations, and this was no exception.

After recognizing me from church, the agent told me that she didn’t like how churches act behind the scenes. Of course, this made me curious. This statement isn’t what you’d expect to hear from a person who just realized I was the pastor at the church she formerly attended. 

I dug a bit more and found out she has a son who is friends with a former staff member I let go. From her perspective, and in her words, my decision was a “political and unnecessary decision.”

Yes, she told me this as my daughter and son-in-law were signing their contract. 

This caught me off guard, but I responded kindly, saying, “Well, I was the one ultimately responsible for every decision like this at the church. I hated making these decisions as they were painful for everyone. But, the most challenging part of staff change decisions is how much information I know versus everyone else knows.

She listened and appreciated my ownership of the decision and my perspective. 

Here was her problem. And she’s far from alone. People don’t realize they lack some information, but that doesn’t keep them from having strong opinions.

The Solution for Approval

There is a pretty simple solution:

  1. Ensure every person with an opinion (or who will form an opinion) gets all the information (and I mean all).
  2. Allow every person to speak into the decision.
  3. Refrain from deciding until there is 100 percent consensus.

That’s the solution. And it’s completely infeasible.

First, it’s impossible to share all the information with every person, and everyone doesn’t deserve all the information. When I had to make staff changes, I possessed information that only I knew. It would make my life easier to share all the dirty information laundry with everyone, but that’s unhealthy and incredibly disrespectful to the person being let go. 

Second, how long would it take to decide if everyone’s opinion had to be included? Infinity is the answer. 

Finally, there is rarely, if ever, 100% consensus. 

The Only Real Option

This leaves us with one apparent reality: People will not always approve of you, your leadership, or your decisions.

Back to my staff change that angered the real estate agent. I made that decision after months of coaching the person, discussing it with my executive team, and praying over the matter. It wasn’t a flippant decision. I had all the information, but everyone who was about to hear about my decision only had partial information.

I could sit everyone down, spread out all the dirty laundry, and then hope everyone approved of the decisions, but in doing so, I would disrespect the fired staff member for my selfish gain. That is terrible leadership.

So, instead, I made the decision and communicated to the team and volunteers what was necessary without disrespecting the exiting staff member. Not everyone agreed, including a real estate person I’d never met.

However, I honored the people most vulnerable and affected by my decision. And I paid the price. 

The Apostle Paul Understood This Dynamic

To the Christians in Rome, Paul wrote this: 

“No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭2‬:‭29‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This last statement caused me to pause—and made me think of all of us leaders. 

If we seek to be liked by those we lead, we’ll inevitably make poor leadership decisions. Leadership requires making choices. It’s impossible to have everyone agree on every choice. 

This verse from Paul always gave me peace during these decision-making moments. I knew there would be naysayers, and I knew not everyone would agree. I also knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t share everything I knew about the situation to gain the approval of others. 

I learned to allow God’s view of me to be the view that mattered. 

How Important Is the Approval of Your Followers? 

If you’re human, it’s important. 

However, we cannot allow our desire to be liked by others to overwhelm the need to make great leadership decisions. 

Ignoring our desire to be liked or pretending we don’t care doesn’t resolve our internal tension. 

Following Paul’s advice, however, is how we continue to lead well, even when not everyone agrees with our decisions.