Do you need to be likeable to succeed in your career?

Well, I was having dinner with ten other senior women and the conversation turned to key factors for career success.

We agreed on so many things, like you’ve got to be really good, you have to be able to influence people, you have to have presence.

Then I asked, “How important is likeability?”, and that’s when the discussion got really interesting.

The ‘yes’ camp said, “People prefer to work with and do business with people they like.” By the way, there’s also a Harvard Business Review article that says pretty much that.

The ‘no’ camp was all about much more important to be respected than liked.

We ended up with a compromise that talked about, instead of likeability, the concept of relatability. Could people relate to you? Do you engage and connect with others?

Well, stepping back, here’s my take on it.

No matter what words we use for the likeability factor, it’s not a requirement. We all know people who are difficult, maybe even jerks, and they succeed because they’re so good at what they do. We also know people who are likeable, even loveable, and they don’t succeed because they’re just not that good.

On that normal distribution of performance, the top 10% succeed no matter what. The bottom 10% won’t and it’s that 80% in between, the solid citizens – and by the way, that’s most of us – all other things equal, likeability enhances our chances of success and, by the way, probably makes it more fun for us and creates a better working environment for everyone.

So here are three actionable thoughts for you:

  1. If you are concerned about being low on likeability, and you tend to be seen as difficult, then why not experiment with ways that you can achieve the same results without the collateral damage that comes from being difficult. You might actually achieve even more and have more fun.
  1. If you’re high on the likeability scale, and being likeable really matters to you, then make sure you don’t let it stop you from taking a stand, making the tough decisions, taking actions that might upset others. These are really important things for senior leaders to do and it’s all about the how.
  1. Wherever you stand on the likeability scale, look for it in others. Of course, they’ve got to be credible but these people that are likeable can be real assets to the company, to you, to themselves, and that’s because they can bridge the gap between two factions. They can connect people and they can bring teams together. So recognise and value what they can do.

Let me leave you with the following set of questions to consider:

  • What’s your take on likeability?
  • Where do you stand on the likeability scale?
  • And how important is that in your career?

Please take a moment to leave comments in the section below. I’d love to hear what you think.


Image credit: AP Photo/20th Century Fox