The Power of Likeability

Nearly 30 years ago, while working for Bob and Joyce Hogan in graduate school, I learned about a concept that has stayed with me to this day – something Bob called likeability.  According to the extensive personality research that the Hogan’s helped make popular, likeability is that “special something” that certain people have that causes other people to, well, like them.  That quality that produces a positive general reaction about us in others’ minds – something that gives us the benefit of the doubt, that draws other people to us.

Likeability might just be the most intuitive personality construct going – we know it when we see it, and it’s something that all of us can relate to.  After all, this is one of the most basic of human emotions – when you meet someone, you instantly form an opinion of them in terms of whether you like them or not.  There are a lot of sophisticated emotions and analyses we make about other people, but one of the simplest is – “do I like them?”

I got to thinking about likeability this past week while reading the media reactions to President Obama’s decision on immigration.  Obama may have started his term as President with an enormous store of likeability, but it seems mostly gone now.  Even his biggest supporters don’t talk much anymore about his likeability quotient.

How important is likeability, anyway?  Dr. Hogan would frequently say that likeability was the most important of all the personality traits – way more important than smarts, or analytic ability, or judgment.  If others view us favorably – if they are inclined to root for us, rather than against us – the deck is stacked in our favor, and we can overcome a heck of a lot of obstacles in other areas.  Not surprisingly, this can be huge for leaders.  Most of us don’t care to follow someone we don’t like – it’s really that simple.

I think this might be true for President Obama.  I think the American people (and the media) have mostly walked away from liking this guy.  The next time you’re reacting to a news story about Obama, or analyzing how you think he’s doing in the world’s toughest job, ask yourself – do your feelings about him as a person influence how you’re evaluating his performance?  The answer is – of course they do.  And that is as natural as the sun coming up in the morning.  Obama’s likeability factor may once have been his secret weapon.  I wonder if he can get it back in these last two years…