If People Like You, They'll Follow You

"We will work harder and more effectively for people we like. And we will like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel." – From A Leader’s Legacy by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

I’ve been thinking about likability a lot recently. It’s huge. Being likable is not the same thing as being smart, extroverted, or funny.

The "liking principle" is part of Cialdini’s principles of persuasion and for good reason. When people like you, it’s easier to influence them.

I’ve thought about how I can become more likable at a tactical level. One theory I have is we don’t like people who intimidate us. Because of my physical stature and occasional tendency to use academic (read: pretentious) prose, and because of my eclectic interests and activities, I’m sometimes said to be intimidating. To combat this I have recently begun to use more informal language in my everyday talk and have kept an "open posture" (open palms, feet pointed out, and shoulders slightly curved in). At the end of the day, I’m me — deal with it! — but I don’t think it hurts to think about the components for successful leadership.

The thought that it’s better to be feared than to be loved, I think, is bullshit.

How do you think about likability?

11 Responses to If People Like You, They'll Follow You

  1. I have the same issues with being considered intimidating as you do. What I found is these people where really saying that I should be more like them.

    Being intimidating can be useful in some cases, not every one likes honey, some people like vinegar.

  2. Justin says:

    I completely agree with your conclusion that people generally gravitate towards those that don’t intimidate them, however, I have also found that being ‘different’ and having eclectic interests and unusual affinities can be a great thing when it comes to leadership. While people resent those that are pretentious, they often gravitate towards those that are unusual in terms of their interests. As you have mentioned, your classmates would look to you as the ‘expert’ when it came to business etc and consequently ask for your advice on issues of that nature. Leaders in my book are those that challenge themselves in ways that others don’t and in fact, dare to be different.

  3. I don’t know if it’s a girl thing or a me thing (though girls definitely suffer this more), but I’m just now starting to shed the need to be liked. A friend said to me, “It’s better to be respected and thought a bitch than to be walked all over and thought a sweetheart.” I try my best with people and if they don’t like me, it’s not going to be the end of my world or theirs. C’est la vie.

  4. Machiavelli’s phrase that it’s better to be feared than loved was meant to apply to a specific context: a dictator or prince. He was a nuanced thinker, who didn’t believe his phrase applied to a republic, or other situations.

  5. Chris Yeh says:

    It’s best to be loved and feared!

    I’m still working on it.

    You might also be interested in this book:

    link to timsanders.com

  6. Dani says:

    This reminds me a bit of Gladwell’s “Blink,” when he goes on about people who won’t sue doctors they like, even in the face of genuine malpractice–and how “non-likeable” doctors are more apt to be sued.

    I would say for the American business culture, likeability is extraordinarily important. I’ve had many bosses, and the “least likeable” bosses were never cut any slack–they got the most grief, even when they were doing an excellent job. “Likeable” bosses? Workers happily overlooked all sorts of nonsense for their “buddy-bosses.”

    That isn’t necessarily a strong argument for being more likeable (getting away with more crap)–I think it might just illustrate a certain workplace value systems I’ve personally witnessed.

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    Penelope Trunk: link to blog.penelopetrunk.com

    “The problem is that the most unlikable people are the most clueless so they are the least able to become more likeable.”

  8. Bill Hahn says:

    In prior careers in college teaching and sales management, I’ve
    willingly followed people I respected.

    I enjoy likable people, but follow competent ones.

  9. TK says:

    I think most people on here have been in agreement.

    I think the key is respect.

    In my days in the military, I would follow anyone who new what they were doing and were not going to waste the lives of the people under them.

    In my political days, I generally came to the conclusion that “The Massses are Asses.” People want leaders that make them feel good. It is all about feel. And since few citizens actually even know who their political leaders are, it is all about spin and hype.

    In business, I have found that people tend to be a little more self-serving. They may like you or they may respect you or both. But they really only care and will do a good job if there is a good WIIIFM (What Is In It For Me). if people make more money or are more challenged or get more free time or whatever they value, they will think you are a great business leader.

    So leadership is different from field to field.

  10. Bernadette says:

    Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence people provided a good insights on why informal relationships are powerful tool to influence decisions when managed properly. But you can be intimidating and still have people like you depending on when you use your intimidation. If people are intimidated by you because you are a jerk and uses your position and power to control them,brags about his/her accomplishments, well guess what, no one is going to want to be working around you. But if people are intimidated because you are smart, then there is a way to acknowledge those intimidation and figure a way to have those people comfortable around you. And Ben, remember when we met? Did you sense that i was intimidated by you? Well, I was but you made me feel comfortable as soon as you say “Well everyone has things to contribute in the business world” which sets the tone of “hey bernadette,lets share some of our experiences together.It’s important to me to know where you come from and how can i help.”

  11. Jefferson Berlin says:

    Try making believe you’re from Texas and know how to ride a horse. Disingenuously convey an interest in others’ opinions. People will like you and give you an opportunity to set back American civilization 100 years.

    Likeability can be tremendously overvalued, too.

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