I've had my share of leadership challenges over the years.
I'll never forget the time an employee who I called into work brought in the balloons she was tying up for her son's birthday party and decided to start throwing them on the floor of my office. It was a total meltdown. I should have asked a bit more about what she was doing instead of demanding that she come into work. (In my own defense: She probably could have offered up that information on her own.)
I was never a hated a boss, but there were times when my decisions led to employees disagreeing with me, arguing with me, and challenging my thinking.
I wish I had known how to deal with those challenges, but in many ways I just didn't develop these qualities. In recent years, I've met with many company founders and leaders in business, carefully noting what makes them so likeable. Here's what I've found out.
1. They ask detailed questions.
In my example of the employee who came into work and had a big fit, I didn't ask questions about why she wasn't available. Good leaders know how to do that. Before making a command or directing the work force, a good leader asks for more information. That kind of leader is easy to like because we all like passing on information and no one likes dealing with a tyrant who just tells us what to do.
2. They empathize.
One of my challenges as an introvert in leadership had to do with a failure to empathize. I've seen how a friend of mine runs his own business by always asking how people are feeling. How was your evening with the kids? Are you feeling OK about this project? What can I do to make your job easier and not so stressful? He asks about their personal life. Good leaders see employees as people. That creates a chain reaction as employees recognize that you also have feelings. They will empathize (and like) you.
3. They are curious to learn new skills.
A CEO I met in San Francisco once had this skill in spades--and every other card-playing suit. He just seemed curious about everything, and it was obviously contagious since his staff had the same thirst for knowledge. When a leader has this skill, it means they are open to anything--including criticism, feedback, and ideas from employees. It makes the leader well liked because he isn't a closed book no one can read.
4. They enjoy life.
Leadership by anxiety doesn't work. The best leaders I've met in business always seem to think life is just a big old joy ride and nothing ever fazed them. They don't get that stressed-out about projects or money. It makes them likeable because everyone around them realizes they can be part of that kind of outlook and learn how to have the same attitude. They can join you on the joy ride.
5. They listen.
Talk, talk, talk. Gab, gab, gab. Bad leaders always have something to say and they force employees to hear it. Good leaders want to hear what employees have to say and they are always ready to set down a task and give up their time to listen. We all like to share opinions, but when it is the boss and she actually listens, it creates a feeling of good will. We like people who listen to us. (Just make sure you also respond.)
6. They act.
Being well-liked as a leader does involve listening, communicating, and empathizing. But it also means acting on what you've learned. If the boss just sits back and listens but doesn't do anything about it or doesn't take the time to investigate the issue, we tend to think she doesn't really understand the problem or care enough to do anything about it. Suddenly, when you act on that knowledge, those around you will think you actually care enough to do something.
7. They work hard.
Here's how to really get on the good side of your employees. No one likes a tyrant, but employees really hate leaders who just sit around and watch them work. Want to be more likeable as a leader? Work hard as an example to everyone. Your employees will see you as an ally, someone who is part of the team and not just the commander.