Are you likeable or a jerk?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
I think that likability factors differently for men and women. It has been my experience that in order to be a successful leader, it is more important to be liked if you are a woman than a man. Of course, we can all think of examples to the contrary, but as a general rule this is what I have observed.
I would say I’m very high on the likability scale. In fact, I see this as one of my strongest traits as a leader – peers want to work with me, those who report to me want to impress me, and supervisors want to see me succeed – and all of these people make up the team that helps me to be successful. That being said, I have definitely kept a contrary opinion to myself on more than one occasion, or backed down when someone else felt strongly about something. Mostly I try to strike a balance and “not sweat the small stuff” – if I disagree slightly, or if it’s a decision that won’t have a huge impact, I generally choose not to be very vocal or push my point. This leaves me a lot of credibility when I do feel strongly about something, particularly when it is not the popular opinion. People tend to really listen when I take a stand because I do it judiciously. It’s always, always, always a tricky balance though.
I’d love to hear about others thoughts and experiences!
Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Beth.
In support of your observation about likeability factors differing for men and women, Alice Eagly and Linda Carli have done some interesting research on the differences between what people expect from male and female leaders and the broader implications of that for women’s careers. If you’re interested, it’s published as part of this HBR article (http://hbr.org/2007/09/women-and-the-labyrinth-of-leadership/ar/3) as well as in their book “Through the Labyrinth”.
It sounds like you have found a great way to achieve that “tricky balance” as a leader. Keep going!
May, definitely the two go hand in hand together. Being likeable and being good in what you do is the ultimate formula for success. The person who isn’t likeable will succeed for sure, but at the end of the day he / she will end up alone ! What good does all the money you make will do for you if you need to buy your friends!?
Christina – Many thanks for sharing these good points!
Totally agree with you on this Christina!
Great article May. I definitely think how can we relate to others is very important. In my own experience, I found my success to progress upwards, including with executives, when I showed that I cared as an individual from both a career and personal relationship point of view, taking an interest over the other first before me. It is always important to serve and interact with others first than to be selfish. I find the latter over time back fires.
Thanks again for a great discussion/article May!
Many thanks for your comment, Mustafa. I agree that serving, interacting and engaging with others is the way forward. After all, most of our success involves working with and through other people, and relationship matters.