Overlooking “Capability”  for “Like-ability” 

Capable - Likeable

One of the biggest problem that I see in many organizations is our willingness to overlook “capability” for “like-ability.”

What does that mean?

It means that many times we are more interested in whether or not our leader is “like-able” and less interested in whether or not they are actually capable of exhibiting and demonstrating leadership.  This can have tragic affects

This phenomenon is not as common in the commercial world.  The business world often cares much more about whether or not you can do the job than whether or not you can be a leader.  There is not often much thought given to how the rest of the employees “feel” about the boss or the leader.

Here is where we see leaders who have progressed through the ranks of an organization and have reached a leadership level through hard work, dedication and a proven track record of success.  They have been mentored by other leaders who have proven track records of success.  They sometimes just aren’t that like-able.  And they often don’t particularly care if they are liked.

To back that premise up, research shows that average Emotional Intelligence scores plummet higher up the corporate ladder beyond the supervisor level. The theory is that people get promoted based upon results, even if their people skills are lacking. As leadership coaches, folks like me are working desperately to change that. But the phenomenon remains.

And I suppose all of this begs a few questions:

  1. Would a leader rather be liked or trusted?
  2. Would a leader rather be popular or right?
  3. Would a leader rather be successful or loved?
  4. Is “like-ability” even something that a leader should be concerned about?

There are so many angles that this thought process could take.

What if . . .

What would the leadership landscape look like if these older and more mature leaders would spend significant and intentional time developing these younger leaders?  What would happen if these mentors would hone the skills of the young leader’s and help smooth the young leader’s rough edges?  What if they would take them along to key meetings and major presentations and allow them to participate as an observer and then progress on to an active contributor to the team?

It would be easy at this point to discount this hypothesis with personal observations of the CEO’s nephew brought in and made a manager without any prior experience.  But those situations are not as common as we want to think they are.  And they don’t truly minimize the way that many of us have experienced our own leadership development at the hands of folks whom we admired and aspired to be like.

But this penchant to value like-ability over capability is more often seen in the non-profit world.  Here we find leadership that is often based upon personality and charisma.  This preference for like-ability is seen in both leaders and followers.

A word to leaders

Leaders are just like anyone else.  We all want to be liked.  No one wants to be hated.  We all want to be loved and admired.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be liked.  The issue becomes problematic when our “like-ability” is all that we have to offer.  We have no substance.

A word to followers

It is not only the leaders themselves who are afflicted with this.  Often we as followers are so smitten with how much we like and love our leaders that we do not notice the fact that they may be devoid of leadership ability.  We are willing to overlook the fact that they really don’t have any proven skills.  We value their potential over their progress.  We have a blind spot where their capabilities are concerned.

And the longer they stay around, the more our love for them grows and the more the size of the blind spot expands.  It can grow to such a size that it blocks all the light of objectivity and evaluation from reaching our eyes.

What if . . .

What if we took our role as loyal follower seriously and took some risk for the sake of the team? What if we approached the leader with love and respect and tried to open a dialog on their abilities? One of the best questions to open the dialogue is, “Are you open to some feedback?” That’s a tough question to say no to. It opens the door for a careful conversation.

So, what is my point?

  • Surround yourself with the right kind of followers – My point is that if we are a leader, we need to surround ourselves with folks who accept us and yet love us enough that that they will say the hard thing to us from time to time when we need to hear it.  These folks will help us balance our need to be liked with the high calling of leadership. Be brave, ask them for feedback on your performance. People often won’t tell us the hard stuff until we ask. Even then, a prior climate of trust has to be established for truly honest feedback.
  • Be the right kind of follower – My point to those of us who are followers is that we need to be one of those folks surrounding our leaders who will follow loyally yet who will shine light on our tendency to shy away from the hard thing if it will impact our like-ability. We need to be willing to ask the tough question and offer our support to find the tough answers to the tough questions.

Real leaders are capable of great results.  And really great leaders accomplish it without alienating their followers.

Photo credit: tec_estromberg / Foter / CC BY

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Leader -|- Follower -|- Guide

I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.