Dispelling Common Myths about Likability and Leadership Effectiveness“I don’t care about being liked, I just want to be respected,” is a statement repeated by many less than extraordinary leaders. Trapped in either/or thinking, these narrowly-focused leaders often push hard for results while leaving a trail of damaged relationships and enervated people scattered behind them.

Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is perpetuating a related gender myth in her new book, Lean In. She relates the story of a woman leader telling her five year-old-daughter that when Daddy does better at work, more people like him. But when Mommy does better at work, fewer people like her. Instead of protesting how unfair that is, the little girl tells her mother she’d try to be less successful so more people would like her. Sandberg cites research, “that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”

But that’s not what our research shows. In their Harvard Business Review blog, “New Research Shows Success Doesn’t Make Women Less Likeable,” Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman report:

“While, certainly, some individual women may find themselves disliked as they move up the organization, our aggregate data show the opposite is more common — that male leaders are perceived more negatively as they rise, whereas women generally maintain their popularity throughout their entire careers.”

The blog displays a graph showing that as men and women move from supervisor to middle manager to senior and top management, both men and women see a small likeability drop initially. But as they move into middle and senior management roles, women recover their likeability somewhat while men do not.

For this study, Zenger Folkman developed a Likability Index that started with “Builds Relationships.” Go to the blog for a link to the ZF 10-item index and come up with your own Likability score.

Being liked and delivering results defines extraordinary leaders consistently rated in the top 10% of our database (now compromised of over 500,000 assessments of 50,000 leaders). Exceptional leaders are very likable. He or she delivers outstanding results and highly engaged employees.

Jack and Joe conclude:

“In order to be an inspiring leader and increase employee satisfaction and engagement a key factor is to be a “likable” leader. Being “likable” isn’t decided by your looks, personality, race, or even gender, it is something that every individual has control over.”