Leadership: on Being Likable

By | April 15, 2019

[April 15, 2019] I was in the Rayburn Building in Washington D.C. this past week visiting members of Congress. The variety of political philosophy, ideology, and backgrounds was surprising to me. What I discovered, however, was that each elected member of Congress that I spoke to were exceptionally likable.

“Some people are inherently likable. If you’re not – work on it. It may even improve your social life.” – Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court justice

My grandmother, Bigmama, used to tell us grandkids that despite all of us were smart kids, it was still important to be “likable.” I think she was speaking mostly to my cousin (who didn’t share his toys) and me (I was too uptight). To her, likeability meant that other kids would play with us, adults would tolerate us being around them, and people would give us more opportunities later in life.

Psychologists are consistent with this idea. By the age of 4, children that are more likable are generally more successful later in life with their jobs, family life, and other measures of well-being. Likeability is not measured by agreeableness or pandering but to genuine characteristics that transcend intellectual traits.

This idea should be thought separate from the idea of popularity. In an earlier article, I made the distinction and noted that the allure for popularity could be risky for leaders.1 When adults teach children to be likable, other children and adults will want to be around them, play games, read to them, and help them when necessary.

Being likable opens doors to greater opportunities. Many times I witnessed senior military leaders, who were given information that would be beneficial to junior officers, selectively dispense the information. They gave this to officers they liked more. Whether this was an unconscious act or not, matters little; likable officers were getting more chances to advance themselves.

It is only human to be attracted to people who have a positive disposition, are genuine, less likely to judge, are consistent, smile, and open. Likable leaders are seen as fair but firm, dependable, cheerful, and caring. Sounds a lot like the Boy Scout Law.2

Scientific studies are consistent on this issue. Likeability has little to do with intelligence or attractiveness. Likeability is about sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding others.

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  1. https://www.theleadermaker.com/likable-leaders-versus-popular-leaders/]
  2. http://www.usscouts.org/advance/boyscout/bsoathlaw.asp
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Leadership: on Being Likable

  1. Max Foster

    How to tell if you need to be more likable? Well, if people sometimes, out of nowhere, tell you to smile, that is a sign you are insufficiently likable. Or if they attempt to offer you less pay than someone else performing the same work, that might be another indication. Or if they repeat to you with no apparent irony what you have just said to them. If you more closely resemble the person in the commercial cleaning up a mess with a paper towel and sighing lovingly than the person who makes the mess — the worst sign yet!

    1. Martin Shiell

      The biggest thing in my opinion, is to be yourself unless you are someone people might not like.

    2. Big Al

      To be likable is easy! Once you know what being likable is, the rest goes without saying!

  2. Anita

    Foul language is out. No swearing if you want to be liked. Not if you want to be respected. Foul language is for ill-bred people not fit to be seen in polite company. A bit of sarcasm here: “unless you are a liberal feminist.” At least that is what my friends say.

  3. Mr. T.J. Asper

    If you want to create a more likable personality, here is the key: you must be INTENTIONAL about doing the little things that will make you a more likable person. This is what I tell me High School students and it works.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      You must be effortlessly natural but also meticulously and faultlessly prepared. You must be warm, but not too warm — like a cardigan, never a pantsuit. You must be well-informed, of course, but not tiresome. No haranguing!

    2. Fred Weber

      Be funny, but never hysterical. Be cool, but not icy. Be mature, but not dowdy.

    3. Kenny Foster

      At no costs allow yourself to become angry or, heaven forfend, shrill.

  4. JT Patterson

    One of the most important keys to living a happy, healthy and fulfilling life is your ability to build meaningful relationships. While there are many factors that influence the relationships you have with others, being a likable person ranks near the top of the list.

  5. Willie Shrumburger

    Generally speaking, people who have a likable personality enjoy greater success both personally and professionally. The logic is simple; people are subconsciously drawn to people who are likable.

  6. Eric Coda

    TAX DAY today in the USA. This is where we send our hard-earned money out to the govt to spend on stupid things like free tuition for illegal immigrants.

    1. Doug Smith

      At least we are freer than those living in socialist and communist countries. Big bureaucratic governments are inherently wasteful. But is there another alternative? Yes, smaller government.

      1. Maureen S. Sullivan

        You said it. And we can complain and the government doesn’t come after us.

    2. Scotty Bush

      I sent mine in yesterday. Wow, nice big check our government is getting from me this year. My taxes did go down but not that much.

  7. Albert Ayer

    Yes Yes Yes. I’ve been saying this for years and now finally someone is reinforcing this idea. Thanks Gen Satterfield, you made my day today.

  8. Army Captain

    Very true. If you are not seen as “likeable” then soldiers will not respect you. But what makes up being likeable is the key.

    1. Wilson Cox

      You may appear in pictures, but do not take the pictures yourself. This shows frivolity. But you must look good in the pictures.

    2. Gil Johnson

      You must be able to take jokes. Your laugh must be a good laugh, not a cackle or a guffaw or a hoot.

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