To Be A More Effective Business Leader, Try Being More Likeable

I think my Vistage colleague, Elisa K. Spain, may have hit on something.

A Leadership Coach and Vistage Master Chair based in Chicago, Elisa recently wrote a blog examining the relationship between likeability and business success. She starts her piece by relating the story of Sally Field’s famous Oscar acceptance speech when she gushed, “You like me, you really like me.”

Guess what? That’s not what she said. Her actual words were, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me.” Elisa makes the point that we probably “misremember” the quote because “it isn’t just actors who are primarily motivated by being liked, we all are. Psychologists say this misquote is so sticky because it exemplifies a central human need.” (Read Elisa’s blog here.)

Does this mean that the more likeable we are, the more successful we will be? Not necessarily, but in many cases, yes.

Whether we are liked impacts our ability to have long-term, lasting success.

What I find so interesting about Elisa’s article is how she calls attention to the fact that our outward likeability (not just our inward need to be liked) is an essential component of EQ (defined by Wikipedia as “the capability of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions…to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goals.”)

“I am fascinated, particularly lately,” Elisa writes, “with how this shows up in politics. Here in Chicago, our mayor nearly lost the last election, despite what he has accomplished, because lots of people don’t like him. Our previous mayor was extremely popular. As a result, he could do things that people didn’t like (like swoop in and close an airport in the middle of the night, without any authority to do so), because people liked him, even if they didn’t always like what he did.”

Working with CEOs and executives, Elisa observes the same phenomenon. The CEOs who, like Sally Field, are really liked by their teams, get results, she says. “They get a pass when they make a mistake, especially when they own it and admit it. And more importantly, they get support when they want something to happen.”

For me, as a corporate anthropologist, there’s the kicker. Business leaders who get things done not only have their team’s affection but also their respect—something you can attempt to build into an organization’s culture but without a motivational, inspiring, likeable leader, it often falls flat.

You might want to ask yourself, how likeable are you?

Do your employees respect you? When you present a new idea or want to take the company in a different direction, do they willingly support you or grumble behind closed doors? In other words, do they like you? This might be a good time to try and find out.

From Observation to Innovation,


Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants