Leaders don’t need to be likeable

Leaders don’t need to be likeable

Most of us will know people who are likeable and often will view them more favourably than the people we know who are less easy to get along with. This human tendency to favour people who are likeable extends to workplace situations such as recruitment. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CIO at ManpowerGroup, points out in his hard hitting article, likeable leaders tend to be emotionally stable, sociable and conscientious, all positive attributes for a potential hire.

However, there are good reasons why recruiters should be cautious in selecting leaders based on their likeability and also why leaders should not emphasise their likeability over other qualities.

On recruitment, Chamorro-Premuzic observes that our intuitive perceptions of likeability can lull us into missing underlying, less desirable traits. “For example, many narcissistic psychopaths interview really well, no doubt due to their polished social skills, fearless bravado, and willingness to manipulate others unscrupulously”. Many of us will know people like that, whether personally or further afield, but can we say that we would not have hired them given the chance?

Chamorro-Premuzic notes that leaders ,who rely on likeability alone, can lead their organisation into “mindless conformity” with little scope for innovation, or as he puts it “Nobody is a leader to keep things as they are, or perpetuate the status quo”. He gives the example of extraordinary innovators like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, whose likeability was never their strong point.

“Likeable leaders can make organisations too comfortable in themselves with increasing levels of complacency and inertia. In those organisations, leaders may appear inauthentic and fail to inspire high performance from their teams.”

Successful organisations are defined as those that achieve great results so it follows that leaders should be selected and measured on their competence and performance over their likeability. Chamorro-Premuzic warns that reliance on likeability, as constrained by what is familiar, can “erode rather than unleash the richness that each individual may bring to a team and organisation”. He counsels that we should “expand the range of parameters that we apply as a model or reference for what is good and what is bad, for what is nice and what is not”.

The job of a leader is hard enough and finding out whether they are taking the most effective path between likeability and drive for their teams is difficult and time-consuming. Successfully obtaining unvarnished feedback from those teams is likely to be in inverse proportion to the likeability of the leader.

A tool that can deliver feedback collected anonymously can help a leader find the right path. Tensense.ai has been giving leaders an insight into how their organisations are operating for years. Grounded in the science of Sensemaking, Tensense provides an early warning system for leaders that surfaces issues such as increasing inertia, excessive conformity or declining relationships. This is done by harnessing the instinct of the workforce, who see what is happening on the ground, and asking them how they feel the organisation is performing. This innovative diagnostic has been instrumental in helping large and small organisations stay on a path of high performance – allowing leaders to ‘read the room’ if you will. See how it works here.