There are two opposing points of view in this matter. The first is that leaders can still care for their people even if they don’t like them. The counter-argument is that it is not possible as a leader to care for people if you don’t like them.
Legitimate Leadership’s standpoint is that leaders can’t actively dislike their people and care for them. If the person is not likeable to the leader, the leader needs to learn to like him/her/them – or, if that is impossible, they need to move away from each other.
The majority of managers we spoke to at one organisation were very negative, bordering on hostile, towards their people. They consistently viewed them as lazy, arrogant, unwilling to accept authority, and entitled. Whether their perceptions were true or not was not the issue. In our view, as long as they held these opinions of their people, they were highly unlikely to demonstrate Care for them. We advised them at the time that, if they were serious about living up to the care and growth criteria, they should either change their minds about their people or get a new workforce.
In truth, when managers do not treat their people with respect it is because they don’t respect them – and their people will intuitively know that.
For managers to go so far as to love those in their charge may not be feasible, although I have met some exceptional leaders who do. But they absolutely do need to both respect their people and have a genuine regard for them. This is because Care comes from a place of respect and regard.
Leaders undoubtedly sometimes have people who report to them that they don’t like very much. This is because human beings don’t like everyone equally. When that is the case, it is the role of the leader to endeavour to learn to like the person more, not for the person to become more likeable. If the leader is unable to do this, it is probably in the direct report’s best interest for the leader to help that person to report to someone else; someone that will do a better job of caring and growing that person.
Conversely, to anyone who finds themselves reporting to someone who not only has no affinity with them, but really doesn’t like them, that person should take the opportunity to move on to someone who does like them enough to care for and grow them.
When I have reflected on my own leadership, I have concluded that every time I have failed with someone, it was more than anything else because I didn’t like that person enough.