Today is the eighteenth day of the new blog series entitled Bring Your Leadership to Life! Join us throughout the month of March and beyond as we feature guest bloggers who share their perspective on how they bring their leadership to life! This blog series highlights the theme of the 2nd Annual Evening for Austin Leading Ladies, an event that SOS Leadership is honored to be hosting in partnership with The Concordia MBA TODAY, at Concordia University Texas. Learn more about this powerful event and register at www.austinleadingladies.com.
Courtney Clark is a cancer survivor, brain aneurysm survivor, and mother of an adopted college student. She is the author of “The Giving Prescription,” a guide for using philanthropy to heal after trauma. Courtney will also be the emcee of the 2nd Annual Evening for Austin Leading Ladies!
Leadership and the Lie of Likeability
By Courtney Clark
As the charming Glinda sings in the hit musical “Wicked”:
It’s all about popular.
It’s not about aptitude
It’s the way you’re viewed.
Many people do, indeed, rise to leadership by virtue of being well-liked. A person’s “likeability factor,” let’s call it, can play a key role in whether or not other people will follow them and support them in leadership. If you aren’t likeable enough, why would people want you to lead them? But that same likeability factor can also be a leadership hindrance, can’t it? But be too likeable, and you might be relinquishing some of your leadership.
Is likeability a barrier to leadership, then?
I’ve always felt like I was pretty likeable, even when I was leading. But the older I get and the more leadership roles I take on, I’m recognizing that likeability and leadership can sometimes be frenemies. They SHOULD go together, and sometimes they do, but other times they turn on one another.
First, I wondered if it was a woman thing. Is it harder for women leaders to do things that deplete their likeability factor? A lot has been said lately about how women leaders are viewed, like the “Ban Bossy” initiative aimed at doing away with derogatory words to describe leadership traits in little girls. It certainly can be hard to be a forceful woman leader and risk being disliked. But for me, at least, I don’t think it’s a woman thing.
I have come to realize that – for me – it was a youth thing. When I was in my first few jobs out of college, I got really good at “managing up.” I came up with solutions to fix long-running institutional problems. I exhibited that leadership trait of being able to lead from wherever I was, even if that wasn’t a position of any inherent power. I learned how to lead with suggestions and nudges. That type of gentle leadership was completely appropriate based on my age.
But the day came when I had to grow out of that leadership style. I became a leader in both attitude AND title. I’m no longer some super-young, rising star – I’m a legitimate leader. That has been a real transformation for me. I now have to make decisions that not everyone will like. I have to do things as a leader that actually threaten my likeability, some days.
Being a leader who is still likeable doesn’t mean I don’t speak up for what I want. It means I make sure that what I want is also aligned with the best interests of the people around me, whether it is a committee I’m working with or a client I’m trying to book. If their end goal and my end goal match up, then I feel comfortable giving it my all and being as forceful as possible to get what I want, because we’ll all benefit. No one loses. In that way, I can be a likeable leader.
Stay tuned in the days to come as the Bring Your Leadership to Life Series continues….