There seems to be a general opinion that a leader who is likeable or wants to be liked is weak. The story goes that if you are trying to be liked, you can’t do the tough things that need to be done, and you also can’t be strategic or smart.
If you’re thinking that way, you may be limiting your chances for being successful as a leader. Leadership isn’t an either/or thing, it’s almost always a both/and practice, requiring a leader to be flexible and to use the behaviors that work best for a particular situation.
You can be tough, strategic smart and likeable if you pay attention to using appropriate behaviors for the situation you find yourself in. The trick is to not overuse any particular behavior or to use it in a context where it isn’t appropriate. There are times when expressing yourself in a genuinely likeable way is appropriate, and times when it isn’t.
Likeability can be an important factor in leadership today. The command and control style of managing that worked in an economy that required following the rules and doing things one way just doesn’t work in an economy that’s dependent on creativity and openness. Showing your likeable side may have it’s advantages.
So what does this mean for you?
It means likeability should be a viable characteristic of your leadership. In other words, wanting to be liked and being likeable is okay – maybe even essential. Stories abound of leaders who aren’t or weren’t likeable (Jill Abramson, of the New York Times or Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple are examples) who’ve done great things, but may drive their employees by fear. When I think about leaders who aren’t likeable, I can’t help but be sad about the potential for the even greater impact they can make in the world if they act out of kindness instead of being cruel or demeaning.
It means that you shouldn’t simply promote others who are smart, but look for likeability too. You might continue to promote the smartest person in your organization without thinking of their likeability factor. Open your eyes and your heart to find the next generation of leaders who are smart (strategic, tough) AND likeable. You don’t need to settle for one or the other, but you may need to tap into the potential they have by coaching them to get better in some areas.
It means that you need to stay balanced and responsive. There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes you need to be brilliant, strategic, and tough. At other times, you need to be compassionate, understanding, and kind. Sometimes you need to be all of those things. The trick is to be awake and aware enough to know when it makes sense to be any or all of those. Ask yourself, “what does this situation call for from me?”.
It’s important to know what you’re good at and what you need to get better at while assuring that it all stays balanced and used within context. The best leaders know themselves and work to develop all parts of their personalities and being likeable and wanting to be liked is a part of that.