There's a myth about likability in the workplace and it goes something like this: You can either be liked or respected, but not both. We tend to look at leaders who are likable as being weak—because real leaders don't care what people think, right? And those leaders who are respected, well, they can't be likable people. Because I wrote a book on the power of likability (Likeonomics), people are always asking me about likability vs. respectability, and the answer is really not that simple.
Great leaders inspire and bring people along with them. You can't do this without some type of personal connection or likability. Employees need to believe in you as much as they believe in the idea of what you want them to do. So why does being a likable leader still cause so much mental resistance? Usually because of three mistaken beliefs:
Myth #1: It's all about the idea. It's true that having a great idea matters, but it's not enough. Every day great world-changing ideas and products fail to take off. Why? Usually because they are not connected with the right people. You need a great idea and the right people who believe in it to succeed.
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Myth #2: Likability is the same as being nice. Being nice and being likable are two different things. Nice people are afraid to tell you the truth; they'd rather just be nice. Likeable people start with the truth and honesty and build a relationship on that.
Myth #3: Inspiration is a black and white principle. We tend to describe inspiration in linear terms: People are either inspired or they aren't. In real life, this is rarely true. Instead, we are more inspired by certain people and less inspired by others. And this plays out in everything from employee productivity to how powerful word-of-mouth is for your product or service.
So if likability is truly an important aspect of being a great leader, how can you make it happen for yourself? There are five keywords to remember if you want to be a more likable leader without being a pushover:
1. Embrace the cold, hard, dirty, beautiful TRUTH.
It's not easy to be unexpectedly honest about details that are traditionally kept secret. The more you can help your team to see the underlying goals behind an effort, though, the more likely they are to believe in your mission and follow your lead. Sharing the truth is the biggest factor in building a personal connection with your team and earning their respect in the process.
2. Use purposeful stories to achieve real RELEVANCE.
The power of storytelling instead of reciting bullet points or facts is one of the most fundamental tools that great leaders use to inspire their teams. When you can share lessons or ideas through stories, people are engaged, they pay attention and they act on what they hear. Stories make ideas matter on a personal level.
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3. Perform big and small acts of UNSELFISHNESS.
Nothing can kill respect in leaders more than the perception that they are only acting in their own best interests. With huge corporate payouts to executives seemingly rewarded for poor performance, the trust crisis in leadership can trickle down to small businesses. You probably aren't paying yourself a $100 million annual salary, but there are other ways you may be unintentionally focusing on yourself instead of the business. Being unselfish in everything from financial principles to your office culture has a big effect in creating more goodwill with your employees.
4. Worship SIMPLICITY.
Many ideas or strategies that don't work have a complexity problem. Often the average political campaign boils down a candidate's position into a simple and memorable statement. Obama had "Yes, we can!" While you might hate this "dumbing down" of the political process (I certainly do!), there's no denying that simplicity works, because people know what to believe. This is important for likability as well—because people don't build personal connections with leaders they don't understand. While your ideal way to simplify may be via more personal conversations rather than a three-word tagline, the point is the same.
5. Respect that TIMING really is everything.
It's no secret that timing makes a big difference in launching products or services—but it matters for great leadership as well. We all know leaders who ask for things at unreasonable moments or don't react to how their teams are feeling. Is your team stressed or crashing on a deadline? Are they satisfied from finally launching a product? Reading the moment and reacting to it can make the difference between getting the respect of your team, or losing it.
In case you were watching the keywords in each of these tips, they spell the word TRUST (Truth, Relevance, Unselfishness, Simplicity, Timing)—an acronym to remind you of the most important principles for building likability. Learning how to use these keywords effectively can not only help you to inspire your employees toward a shared goal, but also to connect your business in a deeper way with customers who will become enthusiastic advocates for your products and services.
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Rohit Bhargava is the bestselling author of four marketing books, including last year's Likeonomics. He currently advises brands and startups on how to be more human and shares unexpected marketing ideas in keynote presentations at events around the world. The TRUST principle shared in this post is excerpted from Likeonomics.