[May 2, 2019] There’s an adage that says you can’t please everybody, but I regularly experience leaders who attempt to do so anyway. I see this all the time. Many psychologists have suggested that this trait might be innate to explain the power it can hold over us.
“When you stand alone and sell yourself, you can’t please everyone. But when you’re different, you can last.” – Don Rickles, American stand-up comedian
In the military, there are many of our nation’s most senior leaders who have been talking about this idea for some time. They warn against it yet leaders (actually everyone) fall for it, time and again. What are some of the problems, trying to please everyone, does for us?
- You will be perceived as untrustworthy and disloyal.
- You become more manipulative.
- You show that you, as a person or leader, are less valuable.
- You don’t attract people who are good leaders or hard workers.
- You create co-dependency in others.
- You will be less satisfied with your life and job.
- You will create enemies unnecessarily.
- You will have greater difficulty focusing on what matters.
Like me, I’m sure you have known someone what a real pleaser was. I’m also sure you know that the person probably didn’t like themselves very much and as both manipulative and not that likable. Being likable is important to attract more people to you and to create greater opportunities. Trying to please everyone (or just most people) does the opposite.
I’ve had to counsel several soldiers in leadership positions to stop this destructive behavior. I’ve also had to deal with some very senior leaders with the same problem. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a U.S. Army general who had his career ended trying to please too many people.1
As responsible leaders, we must intervene when we see people who are trying to please everybody. Their behavior never works the way they want it to. They may not like you for helping, but like a drug addict, sometimes intervention is the only way to fix the problem.