Likeability: yet another leadership issue to worry about

Posted August 21, 2012 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

I just read my friend Chris Taylor’s Actionable Book summary of Likenomics by Rohit Bhargava.  I haven’t read the book, but Chris’s crew always does a great job of summarizing the “golden nuggets”.  And, in this one, research has shown that most of us would rather work for an incompetent fool than a competent jerk.  Likeability, it seems, trumps competence when it comes to leaders.  And, Likenomics is yet another example of why most business books on leadership irritate me.

As Sally Field demonstrated in her cringeworthy Oscar acceptance speach “you like me, you really LIKE me!!!”, it seems like (for most of us anyway) the need to be liked is a core human drive.  So, it’s not surprising that we have authors producing books that tell us how to become more “likeable”, as if it’s a skill to learn.  Rohit Bhargava isn’t the first guy to talk about likeability.  Tim Sanders wrote a book called The Likeability Factor several years ago that looked at the same thing.  In Sanders book he also talked about the fact that if you’re more likeable, you’ll have a happier life. From Sanders perspective, to be likeable you needed to enhance four elements of your personality:

Friendliness: your ability to communicate liking and openness to others

Relevance: your capacity to connect with others’ interests, wants, and needs

Empathy: your ability to recognize, acknowledge, and experience other people’s feelings

Realness: the integrity that stands behind your likeability and guarantees its authenticity

All well and good, but here’s the problem with this “likeability” thing as I see it… what about human chemistry?  Explain to me why some people you will automatically “like” and others you will automatically “dislike”?  I, for some reason, seem to really like people who are a little “left of centre”, who don’t fit the “norm”.  I also like people who are loud and opinionated and aren’t afraid to show a little passion for what they believe in.  I have a former colleague who I worked with who drove most of our team insane because of their powerful presence… but I loved him.  I thought he was hilarious.  His clients loved him too.  To me, he was highly likeable… to others, he was an arrogant jerk.

Personally, I think the behaviours that both Sanders and Bhargava talk about are all good practices to employ and develop, but whether they’ll increase your likability factor with everyone you meet… I wouldn’t hold your breathe.  Not everyone’s going to like you and not everyone’s going to want to work for you… even if other people think you’re the best boss in the world, it just doesn’t mean everyone will.  So, don’t over stress about likeability.  Just do the best you can and don’t be an arrogant jerk ever.  And, if you’re generally liked by people in other parts of your world but people at work don’t seem to like you, it may be them…not you.  Find a culture that appreciates your unique style and likes you for who you are.

Happy leading!

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  1. Chris Taylor says:

    Thanks for the props, Glain! 😉

    I found myself nodding my head for most of your post, then caught myself wincing on the last line. While I agree that if you’re likeable outside of work and not at work that it *might* be because you’re with the wrong team – we’ve all seen that before. BUT, I’ve also seen at least an equal number of instances where people weren’t liked at work because they weren’t being themselves at work. If you can honestly say that you’re being authentic at the office and you’re still not liked then yes – maybe time to find another team. But I think it takes a pretty serious gut check first to see if you’re the same, “likeable person” at the office as you are at play. I do find it to be a fascinating topic though, regardless.

    Thanks for (yet another) thought provoking post!


    • admin says:

      For sure, my comment assumes that you’re being the same person at work as you are at home…and true enough many people don’t do that (which must be really exhausting trying to be two people all the time!) Also, I think that many leaders mistake a “need to be liked” for being “likeable”. You can be firm and demanding as a leader and still do it in a likeable way, vs. people who I see trying to get everyone to like them and behaving in a passive agressive kind of way with their directs. I had a boss early on tell me that it was better to be respected than liked. I think you can actually be liked AND respected… although I suppose this would make you an a likeable star vs. a likeable fool. Still think it’s in the eye of the beholder though or else how would Steve Jobs have built Apple?… he was definitely a competent jerk to many. Does genius trump competence and likeability? Perhaps. Definitely an interesting topic though. Thanks for swinging by with a comment. 🙂