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Do you have to be likeable to be a leader?
Often, being a good leader means making decisions employees may not like. But choosing the right decision – even if it’s unpopular with the overall office – is one of the hallmarks of effective leadership.
However, that doesn’t mean being a leader automatically makes you unlikeable. And while being liked isn’t a prerequisite for being a leader, it can be a great motivator for your employees.
In this article, we look at the pros and cons of being likeable as a leader, and answer the pressing question: do you need to be liked in order to lead?
The benefits and drawbacks of being likeable as a leader
The most obvious aspect of likeability is being friendly to others. Leaders who are easy to talk to, warm and generally positive are seen as more likeable to those that are not. Likeable leaders are also empathetic, honest, and good at listening to others.
In addition to this, according to Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, likeability plays a key role when it comes to influencing others. Being relatable and demonstrating that you’re genuinely interested in other people, your team are more likely to listen to what you have to say. They’re also more likely to go that extra mile to innovate, or get the job done.
But likeability is subjective.
While certain things – being a good listener and being empathetic, for example – are important for effective leaders, being likeable isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to leading a high-performing team.
In fact, it’s almost impossible for anyone, whether they’re a leader or otherwise, to be seen positively by everyone. If you are trying to please everyone, you’ll almost certainly fail — and you could very well lose the respect of your colleagues or team along the way due to people pleasing.
What matters the most as a leader is that you’re exceptional at what you do. The best leaders are also always decisive, proactive, knowledgeable and fair, and are willing to make decisions that favor long-term goals over short-term popularity.
Ultimately, having that vision is far more important than being likeable. There are many examples of successful leaders who were seen as difficult. Steve Jobs was notorious for demanding too much from his employees, making him tough to work with. But while he certainly wasn’t liked, he was respected and people believed in his vision for Apple products.
Is likeability essential for leaders?
While being likeable isn’t a prerequisite to be a leader, it does goes a long way. If you want to get the best out of your employees, you can’t rule out the importance of being liked and, importantly being trusted. Leaders who are likeable inspire their employees to work hard every day and innovate when they need to. Plus, they’re more influential and respected.
At the end of the day, it depends on your organisation and your preferences as a leader. No two leaders are the same, and how you approach your employees boils down to your personality and leadership style, plus the organisation and staff you are leading.
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