The Challenge of Likability

A popular man arouses the jealousy of the powerful.” ― Frank Herbert

As I have mentioned in my previous post, I have recently read a book “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” by Lois Frankel.  There are a few things in that book that made me think, a few “mistakes” that made me cringe, a few chapters that made me laugh, and some that made me disagree.

Mistake 8 is “waiting to be GIVEN what you want”.  Fine.  I admit – I am guilty of this one too, but that’s not the crazy part.  The crazy part is that one of the coaching tips for correcting this behavior is “separate being liked and getting what you deserve – they are mutually exclusive” in black on white on page 36.  This is the same notion that appeared in Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”.

Don’t get me wrong – it is definitely important to be able to get tough and assertive, when the situation requires it.  However, I am going to side with “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” and that likability is one of the most valuable traits of a leader.

Whether you are an entrepreneur leading your own company or a director of a tiny department in a large corporation – being genuinely liked is required for building relationships and, thus, for success.  People will much rather do business with those who they associate good feelings with.  When someone is abrasive, un-polite, or harsh in the way she handles routine, she is perceived as incompetent.  And that is detrimental not only to the manager herself, but also to those within the scope of her leadership.

Even in the situations where you need to be assertive and act authoritatively, you can still find a way to do it in a manner that allows you to remain liked.  It is always important to choose your strategy carefully, making sure that you do not offend anyone with your approach.  If there is one thing I learned from being a supervisor, it is that people are super sensitive creatures.   They are easily offended.  Even when they say they are not.  So pick you words carefully, watch your tone, and convey respect.

It appears that the definitions of “likability” in the two camps are not exactly the same.  Regardless of the definition, the goal is to master yourself and to sharpen your interpersonal skills enough to know what tool to pull out of your leadership toolbox in all situations.  A woman can be assertive without being self-destructing.

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