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May 24, 2011


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I agree that today likability is more important than competence. The question is will the emphasis on likable leaders and co-workers effectively carry us into the next century? In other words, can we effectively compete and win in the world market? The political process to elect our leaders is clearly based on being likable, and we're backsliding as a culture with overt national debt, etc. I don't know if people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or others like them were known for their congeniality, but there's no argument that by sheer persistence, and a commitment to move forward, they effectively improved the lives of many, many people.


A lot depends on the field you are pursuing. When I interviewed for an actuarial position at the ocmpany I would work at for 23 years until I retired in 2008 at age 45, what they liked about me was my atypical education background compared to the usual applicants in the actuarial field.

Most applicants usually have a strong math and.oir statisitcal background but I had a stronger business (Economics) and computer programming background, two things they liked for an actuarial applicant because they were seeking to expand their computer knowledge (this was the mid-1980s, before PCs were the norm) while having someone who could understand a bigger "business" picture.

I was a good fit with them for 23 years, for sure, as I was a trailblazer in the computer area while understanding actuarial concepts.


I don't know that I agree with that Syd. There has to be *some* competence there. A former colleague (who is highly likeable yet highly incompetent) just got let go from an internal audit position. A new manager had come in that just didn't like him I guess. And when I worked with him, although I liked him at first, I started to actively dislike him for his incompetence. Due to his likability, he got shuffled around a bit though I suppose instead of getting fired right off the bat. He won't be getting another job any time soon with anyone that I know that could hire him.

But I do agree that in general it helps a lot. And it goes both ways I imagine with staff turnover. I firmly believe that most employees leave a job / fire their manager because their manager is not likeable. In an old job I had as manager, I had 0 staff turnover and there's been 100% a year since I left. But I think that new manager sounds like they have Aspergers. :-)

Retired Syd

@Jacq: I was just trying to think of a personal example of someone I've run across in my field that is just plain incompetent, and I can't even think of one, varying levels of competence sure, but note none at all. Perhaps in accounting there is sort of a basic competence screening, unlike some other fields (CPA exam, field work experience, ethics exam, just to get a CPA certificate.) Certainly some are better than others, but I can't say I've run across a totally incompetent colleague.

But I have run across some really unlikeable people, and one comes to mind that is really quite successful (yes it does happen). Everyone hated him. Really.

Having said that, if I were really "successful" and uniformly hated, I would not consider that a "favorable or desired outcome," but that's just me. Not everyone has that whole want-to-be-liked weakness.


Interesting, thought-provoking post. I agree that likability is an important factor in achieving success, but that begs the question: what is likability? Some people are gruff and cynical ... yet you can't help but like them. Others are happy and friendly, yet they give you the creeps.

And don't say that likability boils down to honesty -- a lot of blunt, totally honest people are really obnoxious.

Isn't likability kind of like beauty -- sure, there are some objective measures, but for the most part, it's in the eye of the beholder. So maybe likability is also like pornography: hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

And then, what about the old saw: Nice guys finish last. Is that still relevant?

Finally, if I can promote my own playground philosophy (uh, oh, self-promotion is not very likable), take a look at "The Boss" sightingsat60.blogspot.com/2011/04/boss.html and "The Boss Part II" sightingsat60.blogspot.com/2011/05/boss-part-ii.html.


Syd, I think it comes from a stretch of a really good economy. These anomalies come out of the woodwork and get hired then, just because companies are desperate for a warm body in a chair. And the assumption is there that they can fill the spot because they have - or are working on - a designation.

Another person I know that was highly incompetent (OMG, I DO know quite a few!), said to me something like "dammit, I'm not an accountant" - to which my reply was C.M.A. = Certified Management Accountant - "the "A" stands for ACCOUNTANT" - check your diploma at the door. They were at least smart enough to only stick it out for 6 painful months of having to attempt to train them that a reconciliation should say ZERO at the bottom.

Part of the "problem" here in the Great White Overtaxed North (with healthcare) is that we have 3 levels of accounting designation. CGA, CMA, and CA. CGA's usually get an undergrad in an unrelated field (eg. psych, bio, stuff like that) - realized they couldn't get a decent job in their field or realized they didn't even like the jobs that went with their field and went for a CGA because of the low barriers to entry - ie. just an undergrad in anything (if you're a CA, it's highly likely that you had a GPA of 3.5 or over - in business - and actually get physical dopamine rushes from having a cashflow balance - first time). So I've seen my fair share of people that have to be taught that a balance sheet really does have to have the same number in the assets section as the liabilities + equity section. It's a sad sad time for accounting up here.

Win for me though. :-)

I agree with you though. One thing that was very important to me as a manager was that I helped the people under me to "be all that they can be" - and that made me well-liked I guess. That was worth more than all the bonuses I have ever received. That I made a sometimes-not-wonderful job a little more fun and a good place to be for 8+ hours out of the day has meant a lot to me. I like to think of it as playing sudoku with a bunch of friends and how cool is that?

Banjo Steve

Being well-liked is full of skills too often taken for granted. Regularly I have seen like-able students who are not great academic stand-outs being inclusive, appreciative, and supportive in group work, while also seeing "brilliant" students being reclusive, pompous, and generally uncooperative.

We keep forgetting that here are lots of different kinds of intelligence.


isn't always about have the right attitude and a little bit of luck? That's what you can read in most of the "how to achieve success"-books. So it means, be yourself an be brave :-)

Tristan Benette

Ah, keep enjoying life, Syd! You've done so many wonderful things in life already and you should really be keeping your head up! Socializing is a great way to be busy... One's skills continuously develop and they change as a person grows older. And yeah, it really doesn't hurt to be sociable. No man is an island anyway. :)


It's too bad so many people don't learn about this until they are much later in their career or retired. They should teach more "real-life" lessons like this in school so kids will be better prepared and more effective when they enter the workforce. Some of the most successful companies are filled with people that are happy and "play nice" with their co-workers. Sometimes we just need to be reminded. Thanks for reminding us...

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