Employer Branding

What It Takes to Be a Likeable Leader

A recent issue of People Management magazine reported the story of an unnamed travel agency in Shandong province, China. Staff who failed to like or comment on social media posts from the company’s CEO had been fined under a policy which is intended to improve morale and encourage ‘mentoring’ among younger staff.

The CEO, who defends the policy, encourages workers to take turns reading out his motivational quotes and corporate updates via a loudspeaker each morning, to which they were expected to add emojis or comments.

Frankly, if engagement in the ranks isn’t at a level where staff are happy to voluntarily follow and comment on corporate posts, there are probably staffing issues that warrant attention before the social media popularity of the boss. Employee engagement is a perennial HR topic but I think the more interesting question here is whether or not it matters if the boss is likeable.

The engaging leader

Gallup surveyed 7,200 adults and found that around 50 per cent of employees left a job at some point “to get away from their supervisor”. They suggest that clarity of expectations is the most basic employee need and workers whose managers hold regular meetings are three times more likely to be engaged. That is, to feel involved in and enthusiastic about their jobs.

Zenger Folkman did research which shows that leaders who score high on a Likability Index are also rated as effective leaders by their direct reports, peers, manager, and others. The ratings correlate to higher employee satisfaction and engagement, sales, customer service, safety, productivity, quality, and profitability. The researchers point out that there’s a strong correlation between a leader’s likeability and the extent to which they ask for and respond to feedback from others. Feedback from others helps leaders to understand the impact (positive or negative) that they have on others.

In Likeonomics, author Rohit Bhargava claims there is a big difference between being likeable and just being nice. A leader’s likeability factor rises when we feel they are genuinely empathetic and also honest. However ‘nice’ people tend to sometimes avoid telling the truth so as not to offend others and this makes them less trustworthy, and ultimately less likeable.


I was intrigued to find an online certificate course on offer: Be a More Likeable Boss. The modules include Is It Better to be Loved or Feared? and Leadership as Service and I wonder what really works?

Effective leaders are confident in their own skills, they are authentic and consistent in their presentation of their values and that earns credibility for them. They are trusted because “what you see is what you get” and that leads to greater engagement. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, the authors of The Leadership Challenge, say that when leaders are clear about their leadership philosophy, they report 25 per cent more engagement in the workplace.

So what makes someone more likeable? The Likeability Factor by Tim Sanders suggests that likeability is predicated on four key factors:

  • Friendliness: ability to communicate liking and openness to others
  • Relevance: capacity to connect with others’ interests, wants, and needs
  • Empathy: ability to recognise, acknowledge, and experience other people’s feelings
  • Realness: the integrity that stands behind likeability and guarantees its authenticity

Dave Kerpen, author of Likeable Leadership, defines being likeable not as being a pushover, but rather embracing people and being honest, authentic, transparent, helpful and kind. I like that, kindness is something we’d like to see more of at work.

By Liz Sebag-Montefiore

Liz Sebag-Montefiore is a Co-Founder and Director of 10Eighty. With over 10yrs of business experience, I have an extensive and impressive blue chip client base. I have worked with numerous firms working in partnership with the client to understand their needs.

My current role involves managing relationships with clients, developing new business, and coaching individuals in their career. I really enjoy meeting new people and have strong client relationship and networking skills.