Ten Reasons Why Friendliness is a
Leadership Necessity

by Brent Filson

We've heard it many times, "It's a dog eat dog world." The trouble is, some leaders actually believe it. They conduct themselves like the alpha dog in a pack, holding sway through intimidation. This instinctive behavior helps insure survival in a dog world, but applied to the human world of organizational dynamics, it can lead to disaster.

Alpha dog leadership can eventually turn out to be destructive to the people, their organization, and the leaders themselves. To use another common metaphor, "That dog won't hunt."

After all, leaders do nothing more important than get results; and the best results are what I've been teaching for more than two decades, "more results faster, continually." An alpha-dog leader might chew up people to get more results and get them faster, but I submit that it takes a far different personality trait to engender the "continually" aspect of the imperative. That trait isn't the despot modeled by so many leaders, it's ... well, friendliness.

Having a friendly attitude as a leader means eschewing the alpha-dog way of leadership. It means being gentle, kind, helpful, and cordial in your relationships, even in times of anger and stress -- ESPECIALLY in times of anger and stress. Here are ten reasons friendliness gets far more results than an alpha-dog way.

  1. We stay in control. Apha-dog leaders seek to control others. But they misconstrue what control really means. In truth, such leaders are really out of control much of the time, since they're at the mercy of their emotional outbursts and the reactions of others to those outbursts. In leadership, the best way to control a situation, i.e., the best way to get great results, is to put the people in control. Don't constrain them through short-term compulsion but liberate them by playing the "longer game." Unleash their initiative and creativity by allowing them to make free choices, and they will be under your "control" in more profound and effective ways than the alpha-dog leader could imagine.

  2. People respond more openly and positively to friendliness. Humans seek happiness; and friendliness is a great way to spread happiness. It enables you to communicate much more effectively because it bonds you with others in ways that anger, coercion, intimidation can't. And that bonding is the stuff that great results flow from.

  3. We are modeling good interactions, bringing the future into the present. Whether leaders know it or not, their words and actions are carefully watched by the people they lead. People have an instinctive need to model those words and actions; or if they disagree with them, speak and act in opposite ways. By radiating friendliness, leaders are being the means that are the ends in the making.

  4. We make real issues relevant factors, not false issues like anger and intimidation. Friendliness tends to clarify issues; intimidation, because it is associated with fear, obfuscates them. So often intimidating leaders make themselves and their tormenting ways the issue. Whereas the real issues should be, how do we get results, how do we get more results, how do we get faster results, and how do we get "more, faster" continually? The fear they provoke is like crack cocaine, temporarily stimulating but addictive and in the long run destructive to the leader and the people.

  5. With friendliness, we set the agenda. "A good offense is the best defense" applies with friendliness. You should be on the offense with friendliness, displaying it even in challenging circumstances when it may take an act of disciplined courage on your part. This helps you set the agenda in terms of how people respond to one another in these circumstances. Of course, your friendliness will not affect some people who may be determined to subvert your leadership no matter what your attitude is; however, friendliness can, like the clearing of brush-lines to contain a forest fire, keep rancor from spreading deeply into the organization.

  6. We increase the chance that others will support our cause. The truth is that leaders can't motivate anybody to do anything. The people make the choice to be motivated or not. Friendly leaders have the best chance of creating an environment in which the people make that choice. As Abraham Lincoln said, "If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing him of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause is really a good one."

  7. Our opponents can be put off balance. As a leader, you'll often have people working against you, spoiling for a fight; and when they encounter a friendly attitude on your part, they may be thrown off balance in benignly effective ways. Furthermore, your friendliness can encourage others to take up your cause against them.

  8. With friendliness everybody has an opportunity to win. Unfriendly leaders often win battles but lose wars. They may compel others to get on board; but if those others do so out of compulsion and not genuine conviction and motivation, the fruits of any victories can become ashes. Most people welcome friendliness -- even if they disagree with and even dislike the leader. Furthermore, our friendliness can prompt the people we interact with to reflect on their own character, a prerequisite for their choosing to be motivated. In an environment of friendliness, all parties have an opportunity to achieve something positive.

  9. Friendliness is fire prevention equipment against your burning bridges behind you. An opponent may seem to be your opponent today but in the future you may need him to be your partner in implementing changes. Friendliness gives us an opportunity to have productive relationships even with those who oppose us, enriching both the present and the future.

  10. Getting results through friendliness can take a lot less energy than getting results through coercion and intimidation. Friendliness isn't an absolute necessity in leadership. I've seen great leaders who were terrific curmudgeons. It's just that unfriendly people have to go through a lot more trouble getting people motivated.

Two caveats

One, friendliness can be mistaken for weakness. In fact, friendliness can BE weakness if it manifests as a way of avoiding challenging people to do the hard things to get great results. In leadership, friendliness has a clear function which is to have people achieve constantly improving results. This entails your challenging people to do what they often don't want to do. Anybody can be nice to them and let them do what they want. But a leader must continually be challenging people to struggle mightily for extraordinary results. If friendliness doesn't help you fulfill that function then it's simply a lifestyle choice, not a leadership tool, and ultimately in terms of leadership, a weakness.

Two, even if you do use it as a strong leadership tool, you certainly can't be friendly 100 percent of the time. If you try to be, you'll find yourself becoming a rather one-dimensional leader. One of the most difficult accomplishments facing any leader is simply being who you really are - especially under pressure. To force-fit friendliness in a situation where you might not ordinarily exhibit it or to use friendliness to manipulate people into conforming to your wishes is not the best leadership uses of friendliness.

It may be a dog-eat-dog world; but by progressing in the Way of friendliness, leaders can invest their lives and this world with moments of beauty and meaning -- and get more results in the bargain.


The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, The Leadership Talk: The Greatest Leadership Tool and 101 Ways to Give Great Leadership Talks. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. - and has worked with thousands of leaders worldwide during the past 20 years helping them achieve audacious results. Sign up for his free leadership ezine and get a free guide, "49 Ways To Turn Action Into Results," at www.actionleadership.com .

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