Likeability in Leadership: A Recap from ENGAGE Conference 2020

Do they like me? Do they really like me? This question nags at the innermost part of my spirit, cuddled up next to my fear of rejection. Over the years, I have had to pull apart the layers that fostered unhealthy people pleasing in response to this question vs having positive professional relationships with co-workers and volunteers in my care. As with all things, there has been a journey of learning in every season of my life. Jason Young does a great job of sharing the importance of likeability in leadership and how to develop it.

The power of likeability first came to me when my oldest child was transitioning into a teenager. I read somewhere that my job as a mom is to raise likeable adults (not so easy in some stages). If I can help my kids become likeable, they will know how to get along with others, have good character traits and take their responsibilities seriously.  Later, as a Career Coach, I realized the importance of likeability in the workplace and focused on teaching people the soft skills they needed to not only find a job, but to keep it and be successful. 

Now, in this season of life, it’s time to look at the ways that I lead and evaluate how well I am stewarding my influence through the lens of my own likeability.

Because I like people, a part of me believes people will automatically like me in return. If I imagine the people I know being asked if I am likeable, I know there are people who would give a resounding “Yes” and others that I’m not so sure about. In fact, this past year I had an eye-opening moment about myself through the eyes of my co-workers.

During a staff meeting, we were talking about one of our wonderful volunteers who everyone describes as being outgoing and funny. I shared that this confuses me because when I work with them they are quiet and avoid eye contact. My boss’ reply was, “Maybe you intimidate them”.  Because my internal focus is always on how I can help people, I would never have suspected in a million years that I would be intimidating to someone. But, when the rest of the staff nodded their head in agreement, I knew I needed to pay attention. I argued that I thought I was very approachable.  My coworkers assured me that I could be both approachable and intimidating at the same time. That was the day I learned that because I am confident and have a direct communication style, my first impression can be intimidating to people – which isn’t very “likeable”. 

When I partner this with the fact that I also have a few volunteers that affectionately call me “Boss Lady” and have sent me pictures of t-shirts that say, “I’m not Bossy, I’m just the Boss”, I’m not liking the picture that is getting painted. I know in my heart I love and appreciate all the leaders and volunteers in my care – but am I communicating that to the best of my ability? Do they see me as “Likeable” or just in charge?  

Jason shared 3 ways to describe likeability; transparency, sincerity and a capacity for understanding another person. I have the aptitude for all of these characteristics and use them to varying degrees, but when I dig deep to see how consistently I am applying them I see there is room for improvement.

If I compare the people who I know “like” me to those who I’m not so sure about, the word that pops up is “transparency”. Those that “like” me, know me, the real me. I have spent time with them, and they know my heart. The ones I’m not sure about haven’t really seen the real me yet.

If I start with the “business” of volunteering when training volunteers instead of the “business” of getting to know them, I am not sharing the “real” me with them. Yikes. No wonder I come off as bossy! 

Once people know me better, they can’t help but love me (ok maybe a stretch there), but there is a theme here that Jason really hit on, it’s important that we take our own likeability seriously. We can’t make everyone like us – that would be like chasing after the wind. But we can do everything in our power to be as likeable as we can be, with the goal of having  a God glorifying influence in people’s lives. 

Sometimes as leaders we have to do things that aren’t very Likeable. We have to institute change (some people really don’t like change), sometimes we have to come alongside a team member or volunteer with correction or we have to tell someone a hard truth. But if we have a history of sincerity and gratitude with them and have “likeability” credit with them – then these hard things will go more smoothly. If I have already been giving them spoonfuls of sugar (appreciating and loving on them) they will take my spoonful of medicine more easily because they will know my heart is sincere. 

If “likeability is an ability to create positive attitudes in other people through the delivery of some kind of emotional or physical benefit” then there is hope that I can grow in that ability (thanks be to God). Here are some of the things Jason suggested to make good impression;

    1.  Ask questions
    2.  Put away your phone
    3.  Be genuine
    4.  Don’t pass judgment
    5.  Don’t seek attention
    6.  Be consistent
    7.  Use positive body language (use a Resting “Beach” Face)
    8.  Leave a strong first impression
    9.  Greet people by name
   10.  Smile
   11.  Know when to open up
   12.  Know who to touch
   13.  Be balanced and fun

Looking over this list, I can probably work on my resting “beach” face when I am concentrating, being more transparent about myself with people sooner and take the time to tell people the things I love about them more often instead of just thinking it in my head and moving on.

When we have influence in the lives of others and an opportunity to cast vision for God’s glory – we should use every tool available to us. If intentionally working on becoming more likeable will allow me to deliver an emotional benefit to a team member – then I need to take this as a serious call in my leadership role. 

Jason Young gave me a lot to think about, not only in my own leadership, but in training leaders and at home with my husband and kids. And if being “Likeable” can be contagious – just imagine how likeable our teams can be if we set the example.