Using humor and some fairly blunt examples, Washington Post Associated Editor Bob Woodward discussed “Presidential Politics and the Price of Leadership” at the AASCIF 2014 Annual Conference on Tuesday. The conference was held in National Harbor, MD., just outside of Washington, DC. 

Woodward reviewed many of the current problems before our country, and juxtaposed them against the current state of affairs of our own currently ineffective government. His assessment, that leadership is lacking in Washington, was not a controversial point, nor was it a surprise to anyone in the room. His assertion that, while there is plenty of blame to go around, the problem essentially rests at the door of President Obama, the “CEO” of the nation as he put it, was only slightly more bold. 

Certainly not a point I would argue with.

Woodward, however, made several keen observations about leadership in politics that are easily applied to any situation. The points that struck me were likability and friendship in the concept of leadership. In a pretty funny story about previous Washington Post owner Katharine Graham and former President Jimmy Carter (Woodward dropped the f-bomb in this story, which in a presentation before a room full of insurance execs is highly unusual and unexpectedly jarring. Probably would have warranted his prompt removal from the stage in Oregon) Woodward discussed how much more influence one might hold over people who find they like you, and who also perceive they are liked by you. He compared that concept to the perceived inadequacies of President Obama’s leadership by noting that many in Washington just don’t feel as though Obama “likes” them. His isolation and lack of personal interaction is notorious, and Woodward alluded to that having an impact on what the man could be otherwise accomplishing. 

I think many of us have heard the standard management mantra that it is “more important to be respected than to be liked”. There is credibility to that concept, and the primary key within those words really does reside with the word “respect”, rather than the concept of likability. That should not, however, allow the concept of civility and likability to be undervalued. One can be an effective leader as long as they command respect; but the difference between effective and stellar leadership may reside with the concept of “like”. In this day and age of 24/7 competitive pressure, it should be an important point to re-learn or remember.

Woodward also pointed out, particularly in negotiations, that the person on the other side of the table is really your friend, as they clearly have something you want, and in return you have something that will be useful to them. The key is finding the balance that will meet the primary needs of everyone involved. Viewing that negotiating partner in the light of friendship helps create a more positive atmosphere for an eventual successful compromise. 

Both points are interesting observations that we should consider as we work our way through a typical week. I don’t know about you, but I am going to issue an immediate decree at my company that everyone is now required to like me.

I feel like a more effective leader already.

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