Saturday night, Kyle Busch pulled off a risky pass -- nearly driving onto the infield grass -- at the start of the final 10-lap shootout to win the Monster Energy Nascar All-Star Race, and with it $1 million.
Was Busch's win a popular victory? Not completely. Kyle is far from universally loved by Nascar fans; during driver introduction, the ratio of cheers to boos sometimes sounds almost even.
Some don't like Kyle because of the swing he took at Joey Logano after Logano slid up the track at Las Vegas and wrecked him on the last lap, dropping Busch from a likely fourth place finish to 22nd. You might think Kyle made a very bad move; while in similar cases I typically agree, with Kyle I see it as a reflection of how much he cares.
Some don't like Kyle because he is considered by many to be the most talented driver in Nascar -- and he sometimes acts like he knows it. You may not like his cockiness; while in similar cases I prefer humble to brash, Kyle's snark often makes me smile.
Some don't like Kyle because he seems to say and do what he wants, regardless of positioning. If he doesn't agree with one of Nascar's decisions, he says so. If he doesn't like the tires Goodyear has brought to a particular track, he says so. If he thinks the protocol requiring drivers to visit the infield care center after a crash is a little too strict, he makes it known. You may not like people who say what they think, regardless of consequence; while my default is to be more politic, I respect people who are willing to express what others are only thinking.
But still. I'm nothing like him. And, like you, I tend to like people who are like me.
So why do I like Kyle?
Because he was nice to me.
And that says everything you need to know about the nature and the power of likability.
Likability is critical to building and maintaining great relationships, influencing (in a good way) the people around you, and making people feel better about themselves.
And if those reasons aren't sufficient, likable people tend to be more successful in sales, more able to enlist the help of others, more likely to be hired and promoted ... Likability is a huge driver of success.
Since people never do anything worthwhile completely on their own, likability matters.
Last fall, I was at Homestead for the final race of the season and Nascar gave me time near the end of a full media day with each of four remaining championship contenders: Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, and Kyle. Unfortunately, that day's press conference had run long and the drivers' television commitments had run long, so by the time Kyle got to me, he had easily been there at least two hours longer than he expected.
While the delay wasn't my fault, I still felt bad. That's what I do. So when Kyle sat down, I apologized and said I would keep it brief.
He smiled softly and shook his head. "No, you're good," he said. I don't know Kyle. I assumed he was just being polite.
I asked what he wishes he could tell his younger self; he wished he had been more patient. I asked about the keys to success; he said it's important to be the best at each level of your sport or career before you think about moving up. To Kyle, success is earned, and so is confidence. Then I said, "I know you've had a long day, so I just have one more."
And once again he said, "No, you're good," and gestured for me to go on.
So I asked about the moment when he felt like he "belonged" in Nascar; his response reminded me that success comes from following your own path instead of trying to fit in.
Then his PR rep approached the table, clearly intending to end the interview, and Kyle raised his hand in a "not yet" gesture.
So we talked about concentration and maintaining focus for hours on end. He finds that challenge to be one of the most fun parts of racing. And we talked about knowing when to hold your ground and even push back, even though that can definitely affect the way you are perceived.
Kyle is a smart and fascinating guy. I would have loved to talk to him more, but I said, "Thanks for taking the time. I know I need to let you go. "
"You sure?" he asked, as if willing to stay. Maybe he would have stayed. Or maybe he was just being polite. Either way it was a nice gesture, but I didn't want to further impose.
And as he walked away I thought, "He's a good guy."
Three days later, I watched Kyle finish sixth after having been in contention for the win for most of the night, an extremely disappointing end to a nearly 10-month-long season and his chance to win a second championship in a row.
When I got back to the hotel, I saw Kyle waiting in line to check in, his son cradled in one arm, a garment bag over his opposite shoulder, his wife, Samantha, standing beside him.
For a moment, I considered stepping over to say something. But I didn't. His confidence and swagger were gone. He looked discouraged, crestfallen, even vulnerable.
And you know what? I liked him for that, too.
Likability is a highly underrated quality.
Being the person other people want to work with can help you overcome deficits in skill or experience. Being likable often means other people will not only be patient, but actively help you gain the skills you need.
Being the person other people want to do business with can help you overcome a lack of capital, a lack of service offerings, or even comparatively higher prices. Being likable often means other people will buy your products or services even when, objectively, a competitor provides the better option.
For example, watch what happened when Kyle took a swing at Logano.
Had I never met Kyle, my reaction to seeing that would have probably been, "He's a jerk."
But I have met Kyle, and I like him. So, instead, when I saw that I thought, "That was a bad idea, but I understand. Kyle is competitive as crap. He wants to win. He cares."
You don't hire Kyle Busch to drive for you because he's good with fans; he is good with fans, but that's not why you hire him. You don't hire Kyle to drive for you because he's good with sponsors; he is good with sponsors, but that's not why you hire him. You don't hire Kyle to drive for you because you know he'll say and do the right thing; he does, more often than he gets credit for, but that's not why you hire him.
You hire Kyle because you want to win. You hire Kyle because he wants to win. I like people who want to win. I like people who care.
I don't usually like people who complain or are cocky or throw punches, but I still like Kyle, because likability isn't objective.
Likability is subjective, and since even the most steely-eyed, bottom-line driven among us still rarely make decisions for purely objective reasons, likability is a huge advantage. Likability can offset many failings.
Being nice, being kind, on a person-to-person basis, can help offset some of those moments when, unfortunately, we act in ways that are all too human.
A personal brand is designed to set you apart, to make you memorable, to make you stand out, to make you more likely to succeed. But what people truly connect with is the person you are inside. That person is who other people will help, who other people will cut some slack, who other people want to work with and support and mentor.
Want to be likable? The best way is to be yourself -- not a personal or social media brand, but a real person -- and to give people the chance to find out who you really are.