[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.