Leadership Coaching: The Matter of Likeability

  • 6 mins read

Navigating the lightning pace of the 21st Century is not always easy, even with technological advances. Those who excel are skilled in decision-making, forming emotional bonds, and influencing others. It often comes down to a matter of likeability.

Peruse any bookstore, and many titles encourage us to care less about what others think and not give a !@#$. This recent trend reveals our vulnerability to conforming, people-pleasing, and lacking healthy boundaries. But the truth is likeable people cultivate skills that support, encourage, and unite others, often toward common goals.

New research published in The Economic Journal finds that likeability is an influencing factor in interactions between women and between men and women, but not in all-male interactions. The researchers conducted experiments where participants rated the likeability of other participants based on photographs.

Likeability is more than a display of niceness, agreement, or even our looks. Likeability can be learned, practiced, and improved. It requires great self-awareness, self-care, and people skills.

What is Likeability?

Likeability combines who, how, and why: who we are (our personality and physical traits), how we interact with others (our social skills), and whyโ€”our motivations.

โ–ถ Traits: a characteristic

๐Ÿ‘‰ Personality/Character traits

  • Sense of humor
  • Open-minded

๐Ÿ‘‰ Physical Traits

  • Facial features

โ–ถ Skills

๐Ÿ‘‰ Ability to listen well

๐Ÿ‘‰ Ability to express empathy

๐Ÿ‘‰ Self-awareness

๐Ÿ‘‰ Knowledge

โ–ถ Attitudes

๐Ÿ‘‰ Positivity

๐Ÿ‘‰ Beliefs

๐Ÿ‘‰ Values

โ–ถ Behaviors

๐Ÿ‘‰ Tone in communication

๐Ÿ‘‰ Credibility

Your credibility is a critical factor in your likeability. According to marketing expert Rohit Bhargava, author of Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, and Inspiring Action (Wiley, 2012), โ€œPeople decide who to trust, what advice to heed, and which individuals to forge personal or transactional relationships with based on a simple metric of believability.โ€

Likeability is the congruence of values, attitudes, and behaviors; it is proportional to your authenticity to self.

How Likeable Are You?

We like interesting, familiar, trustworthy, positive, nonjudgmental, and authentic people who are interested in us and with whom we have similarities. To be sure, how we perceive others is our reality, and vice versa: how others perceive us is their reality. Nonetheless, likeability does matter.

Subconsciously, we measure likeability by:

โ–ถ Friendliness

โ–ถ Interesting/Interested

โ–ถ Familiarity

โ–ถ Similarity (experiences, values, beliefs, physical attributes)

โ–ถ Positivity

โ–ถ Open-minded/non-judgmental

โ–ถ Authenticity/vulnerability

But what about those differences in values?

In 2017, the Pew Research Center published an article on the traits or characteristics of men and women valued most by (American) society:


33% Honesty/ Morality

23% Professional/ Financial success

19% Ambition / Leadership

19% Strength / Toughness

18% Hard work/ Good work ethic

11% Physical attractiveness

11% Empathy/ Nurturing/ Kindness

9% Loyalty/ Dependability

8% Intelligence

5% Being family-oriented

5% Politness/ Respectfulness


35% Physical attractiveness

30% Empathy/ Nurturing/ Kindness

22% Intelligence

14% Honesty/ Morality

9% Ambition / Leadership

9% Hard work/ Good work ethic

8% Professional/ Financial success

7% Loyalty/ Dependability

7% Competence/ Ability

6% Independence/ Self-reliance

5% Strength / Toughness

5% Politeness/ Respectfulness

5% Ability to multitask

Two questions arise from this survey:

  1. Is there a difference between what the individual values and what they perceive is valued by society?
  2. Considering the research published in The Economic Journal, how do we gauge honesty/morality based on a photograph or physical attributes?

To be sure, our values and differences in values influence likeability. Scientific research has yet to identify exactly how much. We do know that likeability is the combination of characteristics including (but not limited to) interest, empathy, and genuineness. Ultimately, likeability is defined and determined by others’ criteria.

“People will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

How to Improve Your Likeability at Work

The best co-workers are those who are trustworthy, empathic, and connect with us. They demonstrate social sensitivity: they pick up on cues, maintain healthy boundaries, and connect deeply. They are competent, genuine, and likeable people.

Similarly, likeable leaders impress us with special qualities, many of which involve good looks, charm, communication skills, and a leadership โ€œaura.โ€  However, as Michelle Tillis Lederman wrote in The 11 Laws of Likeability (AMACOM, 2011), โ€œThe worst thing anyone can do when trying to establish a personal bond with someone is to come across as manipulative or self-serving.โ€

We seek to be led by those who look like us (or what we think we should ideally look like), with similar values and a shared vision. This psychological drive is called homophily. We also hope our leaders will have some positive differences from us, such as heterophyly. We want our leaders to be smarter and more competent, visionary, and articulate than we are. We believe this individual is like us at some basic level but also capable of directing us to a place we couldnโ€™t reach on our own.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Success! Please check your email.

Questions to Explore

To improve your likeability at work, ask yourself these questions and ask yourself โ€œwhyโ€?

โ–ถ What stories do you tell yourself about yourself, your family, and your work? How we perceive others is our reality, and vice-versa: how others perceive us is their reality. If we remember that our perceptions are the map and not the territory, we realize we can be flexible in changing our beliefs and considering alternatives.

โ–ถ What stories do you tell yourself about your strengths and weaknesses? When we see ourselves mastering skills and achieving goals that matter, we gain a sense of self-efficacy. This is the confidence that, if we learn and work hard in a particular area, we’ll succeed, and it’s this type of confidence leads people to accept difficult challenges and persist in the face of setbacks. This overlaps with self-esteem: a sense that we can cope with what’s happening in our lives and have a right to be happy.

โ–ถ What are your values and beliefs? Do you consistently live your life by them? When a situation impinges on our deepest values, we often leap to a place of righteousness and passion. Preparation is key: know your boundaries, strategies, and tactics before you react.

โ–ถ What motivates you? While we may seek to satisfy our interests differently from others (theoretical, utilitarian, aesthetic, social, individualistic, and traditional or religious), everyone has four basic drives: to acquire, bond, learn, and defend. Recognize the drives behind your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.

โ–ถ What is your purpose? Do your values, beliefs, and motivations align with your purpose?

Work through these questions periodically to improve your self-awareness. A qualified executive coach can help you identify bias and blind spots. Learnability, adaptability, and ongoing choices and actions (or lack thereof) considerably impact your likeability. Improvement requires recognizing your attitudes and behaviors, shifting your mindset, and developing new behaviors.

Sign up for Confidential Kashbox Coach Notes
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Success! Please check your email.








Kashbox Coaching - Executive Coaches
Find Your Coach

Coach Notes To Your Inbox

[CONFIDENTIAL] Nuggets of Leadership

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Success! Please check your email.