To some, “leadership” and “likeability” may seem like a contradiction in terms. After all, Steve Jobs was a renowned CEO, but not exactly warm and fuzzy. And if you’re making hard decisions, you’re bound to make a few enemies – right?
But Dave Kerpen begs to differ. In his new book Likeable Leadership, he lays out a different vision, where likeability isn’t about people-pleasing or shirking tough calls, but instead the commitment to treat others with respect. “Let’s take firing someone,” he says. “The conventional wisdom might say the ‘likeable thing’ to do is not to fire them, because it’ll be hard on them. But for me, the likeable thing is to be transparent with them, let them know why it’s not the right fit, and help them find a better fit. You may think you’re being nice by keeping someone employed, but if you’re hurting your organization and that person, that’s not really valuable. Being likeable is not being a pushover; it’s embracing people and being honest, authentic, transparent, helpful, and kind.”
In other words, the more likeable you are, the better leader you’ll be, because people want to work in positive and respectful environments. Kerpen recommends following what he calls the ”platinum rule” — treating others not as you’d like to be treated, but as they’d like to be treated.
The first step in becoming more likeable, says Kerpen, is self-awareness. “Until you understand yourself, how can you improve, how can you get better?” It’s a marked change from his younger days as a leader, he says. “Ten years ago, certainly 15 years ago, I was too cocky to want to learn more about myself and my team. I would have thought, ‘I get it already,’ and now I realize how little I know in grand scheme of things and value the opportunity to become more self aware.”
He’s become a fan of the Enneagram, a personality test that helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, he says, likeability comes from within. In order to be likeable and successful, he says, “we need to be the kind of person we would like.” That means embracing authenticity, transparency, responsiveness, and other principles you value. “If I’m completely honest with everyone I talk to, I never have to worry about whether I’d like myself, because we all appreciate honesty.”
“The key thing is having perspective on what is most important to you,” says Kerpen, who writes often about his devotion to his family. “I have every single one of my managers do an activity with their teams where they write their obituaries. You’re going to have to think about what you want to be remembered for in this world. I’d challenge everyone out there to think about what they really want that obituary to look like, and make sure you live your life in a way that will generate that.”