Why Business Leaders Should Strive for “Likeability”

Share By Sachin Shenolikar

Business leaders are often thought of as strong and confident, perhaps even tough. But likeable? That’s not a characteristic that usually comes to mind.

Yet, that trait is essential to succeed in today’s landscape, according to Dave Kerpen, co-founder and chairman of Likeable Media and the best-selling author of Likeable Business and Likeable Social Media.

“My thesis is that likeability matters, and even though some may think that clawing your way to the top can work, it can only work in the short term because eventually you’ll be exposed and won’t be able to reap the benefits of your hard work,” he says.

Kerpen spoke with Real Business about what it means to be likeable, a team-building exercise in which employees write their own obituary, and his Platinum Rule for how to treat people.

Why is it so important to be likeable?

It’s more important than ever to be likeable because the world is smaller than ever before. Thanks to social media, transparency is not really a choice. It’s kind of a mandate. Even if you don’t want to be transparent, the world is transparent.

Can “likeable” be misconstrued as being too nice or too soft to be a leader?

No, because ultimately being likeable isn’t about making friends. It’s about being transparent. It’s about being passionate. It’s about listening. It’s about storytelling. It’s about being perceived as a fair and good person. There’s a fine line there. Certainly I’m not suggesting that the nicest person wins, but I am suggesting that being nice is part of the package for sure.

What are some big mistakes that people make when managing employees?

This one seems obvious to me, but I still see it happening a lot, so I think it’s worth saying: Punishment and criticism pretty much never work, especially public criticism. Any public critiques should be eliminated — the idea of criticizing someone in front of peers just never works. On the other hand, positive praise is just awesome — you can never have enough positive praise. [Calls out to his employees] You guys rock!

You’ve recommended an exercise in which employees write their own obituaries and read them to their team. What’s the benefit of that?

It’s a really challenging exercise, but it forces people to think about what’s really important to them and whether they’re on the right track. It can be a great bonding experience, too. I’m all for authenticity and vulnerability — those really bring teams together in terms of people getting along and understanding each other. When you’ve heard someone’s obituary that they’ve written, you’re going to understand what they’re about a lot more than you did beforehand.

You have a Platinum Rule as a philosophy of how to treat people. How does that work?

A lot of people talk about the Golden Rule — do unto others as you’d like done to yourself. But ultimately, the Golden Rule falls short because you’re not like other people: Everyone is unique. What’s even more important is what I call the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would like done to themselves. Understand them. Walk in their shoes enough to treat them the way you believe they would want to be treated. It’s very different from how you may want to be treated because people are different.

How much time does it take to understand a person?

The more time you have, the more you’re going to be able to understand them. I’ve known my wife for 11 years and I’m still working on handling every situation in the best way possible. The truth is that with every day that goes by, I understand her better, I understand my marketing director better, I understand my CTO better, and I can better implement the Platinum Rule.

The Platinum Rule gets smarter as time goes on. The Golden Rule is a decent prophecy in many cases — if you don’t know the person at all, you can settle on the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is great, but the Platinum Rule is better. As you can better understand your colleagues, your boss, the people who report to you, why not think about what’s going to motivate them best and what’s going to make them happiest?

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comments (2)

  1. Essam hamed

    It’s very important to every one to read and understand to handle with employees

  2. Ravi Janardhan

    Yes, Dave, you have taken gas out of people who believe transparency is optional. With social media, and internet in its various forms, the world is transperant, and more with every passing day. This is a new reality, the sooner we accept this truth, the better.

    Thanks for insightful post!


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