October 14, 2013

Likeable Leaders. My View.

Recently I commented on What Makes a Leader Likeable by Dave Kerpen (Author of the book, "Likeable Business") which was a featured post in a LinkedIn Group that I belong to. After posting my response, I decided I would expand on my thoughts about leadership and likeability, with my own blog post “Likeable Leaders.  My View”

We have all heard the saying that great leaders are respected, not liked. And yes this might be true. However, Jeffrey Gitomer, Author of The Little Book of Leadership: The 12.5 Strengths of Responsible, Reliable, Remarkable Leaders That Create Results, Rewards, and Resilience, sheds light on why it is important to be liked as a leader – a point that I think is worthwhile considering. (NB: I am not an affiliate for this book). 


© Jeffrey Gitomer

Now, although I studied leadership as part of my undergraduate degree, I am no leadership expert. The following points have been derived from thinking about the different leaders I have worked with or admire in life; and what it was about these people, that made me either like them or not. From my observation and experience, I believe the following:

1. Likeable leaders don’t seek to be liked

Barack Obama President of the USA
photo credit: tsevis via photopin cc
Leadership is not a popularity contest. So, Narcissists I am afraid to disappoint you. Imagine how ineffective our leaders would be if all they cared about was how much they were liked? When you worry about whether you are liked or not, it sends a message that you are insecure. It also changes your priorities and places the focus on you – not others. After all, a leader is meant to be leading others, right?

The leaders I have liked and aspire to were humble leaders – with a high level of self-awareness and care factor for others. They were passionate about the role of leading and their mission and were focused on and committed to, getting the job done. And needing approval from others was never part of their job description. 

2. Likeable leaders are emotionally intelligent

Leaders are frequently faced with difficult problems, people, situations and decisions – often having to make a judgement call with limited information, time, or other constraints.  Sometimes the situation is not black or white and it requires the ability to dig deep and weigh up options that have no perfect or preferred outcome. This can weigh heavily on the conscious of a more ethical leader, but because of qualities such resilience, depth of character and trust in one’s own ability to accept and rationalise a particular judgement call - progress is made.  An emotionally intelligent leader understands that no two scenarios or people are the same and that every person has their own set of problems, personal weaknesses, complexities and life challenges to overcome.  Emotional intelligence is something that is both earned and learned in order to acquire the unique ability to influence others. 

   3. Likeable leaders are authentic

"Robin Hood" looking guy with a camera
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Authentic people have a solid sense of self, are true to their core values and in my experience have a presence that make others feel worthwhile and valued. Authentic people are real and they aren't afraid to show it and because of this they are contagious. Most authentic people I know are straight shooters who are happy to be in their own skin – they love life and people and couldn't give two hoots about whether someone likes them or not. They understand that all people are unique, no-one is perfect and everyone has something to contribute no matter how inconsequential it may appear to some. 

4. Likeable leaders are approachable

Being approachable means people feel comfortable telling you both the good stuff and the bad stuff – without fear of retribution or ridicule. Trust is an important part of the relationship between a leader and his/her followers.  How else can problems and challenges be faced and overcome, if no-one feels like they can say what is on their mind?

Approachable leaders are realists who possess grit. They welcome challenges by seeing them as an opportunity to grow and learn. They might not like the bad news, but, they know they did not sign up for the position of leader to just have only good times.  They understand that by receiving bad news graciously, it is a defining moment to set an example and show others that it is ok for things to go wrong; and that, as a leader, they will be there through the bad times, sleeves rolled up, to do what needs to be done to make things right again.

5. Likeable leaders are respectful

A smart leader knows that if they want to earn respect, they have to give respect - and that starts with conducting oneself with a high level of personal integrity, and being sincere when taking into consideration the needs and opinions of others. They don’t look at the people under their charge as subordinates, but rather as valued team members contributing to a greater cause. 

6. Likeable Leaders remain objective and fair

Effective leaders remain objective when making a judgement call in their daily course of business. They don’t jump to conclusions and they don’t take sides. They also don’t keep secrets, they don't gossip and most of all, they don’t have favourites. Instead they do their research, get their facts straight and review all the contributing factors before remove any self-prejudices when making a decision. 

7. Likeable leaders would rather empower others 

Two structures with opened arms
photo credit: Lincolnian (Brian) via photopin cc
Effective leadership requires the ability to inspire and influence others to achieve some sort of goal or task. Unfortunately, leaders who are obsessed with the idea of power and their own personal power are more likely to be self-centered and focused on their own agenda rather than the greater good of others. British historian Lord Action was right when he said “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We only have to look to history to find evidence of corrupt leaders who were obsessed with power and control.

Empowerment on the other hand requires a more generous, selfless and outward focus on others; which ultimately stems from a leader being comfortable with their own sense of self, values,achievements, knowledge, experiences and failings. Leaders who prefer to empower others derive satisfaction from helping, mentoring and guiding others to be their very best, through cultivating a greater sense of awareness, possibility and conviction to overcome and succeed.

8. Likeable leaders understand the true meaning of servant leadership

True leaders understand that they are doing a service for others.  They understand that they are using their own skills, talents, inspiration and motivation to set a standard and make a difference in inspiring others to commit to a greater purpose.  They understand that their job is to lead well, with courage, fortitude, moral conviction and integrity as they take their people with them on the journey to something more.  Servant leaders are responsible and accountable and this sends a positive and empowering message to their followers.

9. Likeable leaders entrust their team to do the job at hand

A group of hands joined in middle


There is nothing more powerful than instilling a sense of trust in your team by letting them know you believe in them and have confidence in the fact that they will get the job done and to the standard required. Leaders, who understand this, give their team members the support, knowledge and resources to perform effectively and then let them get on with it. Intervening is seen as only necessity when there is a genuine problem that calls for a leader’s attention. 

10. Likeable leaders take a situational approach

Most of the effective leaders I have liked have been advocates of the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership approach whereby a leader adapts his/her leadership style to suit the level of maturity of the people he/she is leading. Of course, I do think personality and behaviour (e.g. how you are treated) impact how this model works, but it has been proven to work.  For example, I will tolerate being micro-managed, but I perform more effectively when I am left to do my job, are spoken to with respect and are appreciated for what I do.  

11. Likeable leaders give credit when it's due and don't steal it

Integrity definition


Have you ever had an excellent idea, a solution to a problem, or closed a deal only to have a superior claim the credit for it?  Decent leaders don’t do this. They instead, commend the individual for their contribution or job well done and celebrate it with the rest of the team. Undermining others for a moment of glory is not the mark of a good leader, let alone a great one. No-one respects this type of person. More importantly it is difficult to like someone who cannot be trusted every time a contribution is made to the team.

12. Likeable Leaders know when to explain the "why" when making a tough decision

All leaders are faced with having to make tough decisions – that is the nature of complex environments and uncertain economic times.  Effective leaders will make the tough decisions regardless, but those leaders who know how and when to explain their decisions and actions and lessen the blow where necessary  – are the sort of individuals you can both respect and like, even if you don’t like the outcome of the decision made.

So there you have it...my view on what makes a likeable leader.

Closing thoughts

 A wall covered in the words "I like you"
photo credit: minnepixel via photopin cc
Respecting a leader is one thing, but liking them takes the relationship to a whole new level.  If people respect you as a leader, then they will serve you, but if they like you as well, they will endorse you, support you, go out of their way for you and remember you…and they will be happy doing it.  

As Jeffrey Gitomer says in his "Little Book of Leadership": " People want to work for people they like and respect".

Now I am not suggesting that you do everything at all costs to become likeable - that would be silly.. but, reflecting on what makes a a likeable leader is certainly food for thought for some honest self-reflection. 

If you would like to learn more about leadership models and theories then check out Leadership Theories by BusinessBalls.com

If you enjoyed reading this post then feel free to share it. Alternatively, you might enjoy reading From Having a Career to Careerprenuer.

So are you a likeable leader? What other traits, qualities and attributes do you think, make for a likeable leader?


  1. Another great article, Julia. Some great points were mentioned. I also think Likeable Leaders are passionate about leading others and try to lead by example.

  2. Hello there Tom, Thank you for visiting. Yes, I couldn't agree with you more! :)


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