Are you likable?

For years, leaders have felt they've had to choose between being respected or being liked. And in a world where 75 percent of employees leave jobs because of their bosses, being liked may seem like a pipe dream.

In reality, likability isn't about you at all -- it has a lot more to do with how you make the people around you feel. The real question is "Do my employees feel like cogs?"

Any smart leader would respond with an emphatic "no." But performance culture is the name of the game these days, and it's all about measurability. How many calls did you make? How many articles did you produce?

These metrics overlook the growth aspect. Leaders can argue that an increase in the number of calls booked indicates a salesperson learned from one month to the next. Are those leads qualified? What's the caliber of the calls? It's possible what he learned was how to game the system. When people need to produce, they find ways to hit quotas.

When people are allowed to grow, however, a growth culture takes hold. A growth culture centers on delivering value to customers while letting employees drive that effort. I interviewed more than 100 Inc. 5000 companies, who indicated employees should feel like owners. That feeling of ownership spread to the product and the customer; employees treated both more carefully when they felt like growth factors rather than cogs.

To be likable, then, leaders have to focus on the platinum rule: Treat others how they want to be treated. Here are four traits of leaders who do just that:

1. Hunger

Companies that aren't growing aren't creating opportunities for employees. Years ago, I had a boss who didn't want to grow his company. As a young employee eager for new projects and responsibilities, I wasn't content with the same old thing year after year. After three years, I left; my boss and I just didn't share the same level of hunger.

Likable leaders talk to their employees about their goals. They determine how they can help the individuals on their team grow. That involves investing in people: letting employees become brand ambassadors, sending them to speak at conferences and assigning them to lead projects. Likable leaders fuel the hunger in others.

2. Vulnerability

A key part of being likable is being courageous enough to give employees the whole truth, not partial truths. Many leaders I work with have grown up in a world where vulnerability is a weakness. They struggle to share their authentic self when talking with teams and individuals. They fear if they share it all, it will make them look weak.

However, if you want your teammates to engage with you and grow in their own confidence, you must be willing to be vulnerable. You want your people to tell you the whole truth, right? While working with Inc. 5000 company CEOs, I've seen the value of being willing to share failures. The courage to share where they have failed has opened their teams to deeper conversations and new areas of growth.

3. Empathy

Likable leaders also appreciate the flaws and fears in others. Listening to team members goes a long way toward being liked; it shows concern beyond the leader's own issues. "Listening" doesn't just happen with the ears; likable leaders watch for subtle cues, such as body language or stressed behavior.

Straddling the line between keeping an open door and accepting excuses. Employees who want growth opportunities want growth when they're struggling, too. If an employee's missing deadlines, let her know how that impacts others -- then work with her to get back on track.

4. Courage

It takes courage to be vulnerable, but courage entails more than that. It involves sidestepping gossip and cache to have frank conversations and make real changes.

A business owner told me she struggled with a client who treated her staff badly. Her team was deflated, but the client represented half the business's income -- she was afraid to rock the boat. After a call resulted in two employees crying, the owner asked to be invited to the next. She opened by explaining, "We need to find a positive way for our teams to interact so we both get what we need. What we're doing now isn't working."

She managed to keep the account and keep an employee who was on the verge of quitting because she felt her client and her boss disregarded her feelings. It took courage to have that conversation with her team.

Likability is well within leaders' reach. It comes down to being human -- and remembering how the people around you want to be treated.

Published on: Sep 19, 2018