The six habits of likeable leaders

Likeable people have several things in common – they’re charming, they come across as genuine and they can make you smile.

When we’re in situations where we don’t know many people, whether for business or social reasons, initial conversations can be a little awkward. Once you’ve got past the small-talk and chatting about the weather or traffic, where do you go from there?

You want to make a good impression and to get others to like you – ultimately you want to be a likeable leader. Here are six insights into how those likeable people do it:

1. It’s not about them

Whilst growing up, your parents most likely told you to stand up straight when meeting others, and to give a firm handshake. This can establish self-confidence, but equally it can go too far the other way and be a display of importance. So the ‘meeting’ becomes more about you than the other person. This is a first strike against becoming likeable.

So how about the next time you meet someone new, relax, step forward, tilt your head towards them slightly and smile. Show you’re the one who’s delighted to be meeting them. If I show you that I’m happy to meet you, you’ll start to like me.

2. The power of touch

Touch can influence behaviour, increase the chances of compliance and make the person doing the touching seem more attractive and friendly. It can break down natural barriers and decrease the perceived distance between you and the other person – all of which is key in whether you are liked or not.

So a casual, non-threatening action such as lightly patting someone on the shoulder or upper arm can enhance what you’re saying. Try this out on someone you know – the next time you see them, touch them briefly on the shoulder as you go by and your greeting will seem a more genuine exchange.

3. Ask the right questions

How frequently does this happen to you? You meet someone new, you chat for 15 minutes and you come away thinking you’d had a great conversation – you really liked them.

But reflect for a moment. What did you learn about the other person? Nothing?

Remarkably likeable people are masters at this social adeptness. It’s a way of getting you to talk about yourself without you knowing it happened. They use their interest, their courtesy and their social nouse to get you to open up, making them instantly likeable.

Becoming socially adept (and you can use this in business situations too) is not difficult. Just ask the right questions and stay open-ended to allow room for description and introspection. Listen to what they have to say.

By asking the right questions it shows you respect another person’s opinion, and by extension them too.

4. It’s genuine

Sometimes it’s hard to admit it but everyone is better than you at something. So let them be better than you. Don’t try and win the ‘getting to know someone’ competition by engaging in one-upmanship – instead step back, be complimentary, be impressed, admit to a failing or weakness.

This is not about disclosing your fears or darkest secrets but showing a touch of vulnerability or humility. So if the other person says ‘We’ve just opened another office’, you can perhaps reply with ‘That sounds impressive. I have to admit I’m a bit jealous as we’ve been wanting to do that for the last couple of years but haven’t been able to get the right sort of financing together. How did you manage it?’

If you’re real and genuine, people will like you.

5. Ask for nothing

It happens to all of us. You’re having a good conversation with someone you’ve just met, you’ve found that common ground between you – and then they hand you a business card.

This can immediately alter the mood and the interaction changes. So leave your goal-oriented persona behind for once, keep your business cards stowed away in your bag or wallet. If you have to ask for something, then find a way to help the other person and then you can ask.

Likeable people will focus on what they can do for you, not just themselves.

6. Say goodbye memorably

The nod, the standard saying ‘It was nice to meet you’, the walkaway. A move that is instantly forgettable when you’re saying goodbye to someone you’ve recently met.

Instead, how about you finish off by going back to the beginning? Shake hands again, perhaps touch them lightly on the shoulder and say something like ‘It was really good to meet you’ and smile.

First impressions do count, as does making a great lasting impression.


A likeable person, a likeable leader, will admit that it’s not easy. Particularly if you’re naturally shy and reticent, it can often be easier to take the default position of a bit of smalltalk then shuffling off when you meet someone new.

But if you accept that it’s hard, listen more effectively, be a little more genuine and more complimentary to others, it will then get easier. When you help people feel a little better about themselves, they’ll like you for it. And you’ll like yourself a little more too.

Are you a likeable leader?

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