Doug Fleener's

The Day Makes the Year


The Leadership Likability Factor

Mar 27, 2024

I once had a boss who would say, "You don't need to be liked by your staff. You just need to be respected." This was funny because his employees didn't respect him, and he was sometimes disliked. But I digress.

But it does beg the question, does a leader need to be liked by their staff?

Likability can be a powerful asset in leadership. Liked leaders tend to foster a more positive and collaborative work environment. High likability can lead to increased employee engagement, lower turnover rates, and higher levels of trust and communication within a team. Most important, likability can lead to higher performance and sales.

That said, the leader who personally needs to be liked is almost always more ineffective than the one who doesn't. The leader's need to be liked hurts the staff and results.

I've even had to terminate managers who couldn't do their jobs because they needed to be liked. They could not balance the necessary interpersonal skills with the sometimes tough requirements of leadership.

Here are five ways to create high leadership likability without compromise.

1. Be consistent. Employees like to know that the standards and expectations are always the same. They especially dislike when standards and expectations change based on the leader's mood. Consistency is one of the most underrated elements of leadership.

2. Don't show favoritism. Let's be honest. We all have employees who we like more than others. But regardless of our personal feelings, all employees should have the same standards and opportunities.

3. Give feedback, not criticism. Feedback is information that helps someone do something better. Criticism is a judgment on what the person did wrong and is often personal. Feedback is given to the benefit of the employee, while criticism is usually given to the benefit of the leader. It is easy to see the impact on likability.

4. Don't overlook behaviors requiring feedback. Leaders aiming for likability often hesitate to give feedback, fearing they might hurt feelings. However, avoiding feedback can harm the individual's development and team dynamics 

If your goal is to enhance someone's performance, providing improvement feedback won't negatively affect your long-term likability. It demonstrates care and commitment to personal growth and team success, which can improve your perception.

5. Care about the employee, their performance, and their individual success. This comes naturally to many leaders, but it is a learned behavior that any leader can apply. Likeable leaders serve others. They know that when employees succeed, the store succeeds. That's why high-impact coaches and leaders should help every employee be better than they were the day before. It’s also why empathy is an important leadership trait.

As a leader, you shouldn't need to be liked out of a sense of personal validation. Being liked is essential to being a successful leader, but it must be earned through consistency, fairness, meaningful feedback, and genuine investment in your team's success.

So let me ask three questions:

  1. Is the difference between feedback and criticism the same as between espresso and decaf—both are coffee, but one's just more disappointing and misses the mark?
  2. Have you ever had a boss who thought feedback was saying "do better" with varying levels of disappointment?
  3. How is your likability, and what are two or three things you can do to increase it for the right reasons?