Updated: Sep 22
There are many habits that top leaders possess. As part of my continued learning and career growth, I have found a number of habits that have proven essential to leadership success. I have decided to compile these and share them with you.
What are the Habits of Likable Leaders?
Form Personal Connections
Use Positive Body Language
Act with Emotional Intelligence
Generous with Time
Open with Information
Recognize Potential in Others
Remain Vision Focused
Act as an Equal
Get Their Hands Dirty
Each of these habits impacts leadership in a different way. By understanding them, they become more easily learned, established and built upon.
Establishing and Fostering Relationships
1. Form Personal Connections
Likable leaders are remembered by those they encounter. The most straight forward way to immediately form a connection is by greeting people by their names. Though I am someone who struggles with this, I have found that putting in the extra effort and employing a variety of different techniques is worth the effort.
To go one step further, ensuring that you are able to recall other details about people makes a massive impression when establishing a personal connection. Knowing if someone has children, their hobbies or interests or even a sport they enjoy can help bridge the business relationship.
Something that means a lot to people is remembering their boundaries and triggers. Though one coworker may enjoy a hug or pat on the back, another may prefer no physical gestures. Taking the time to note and remember what someone’s boundaries and triggers are will show others you respect them.
Don’t just leave a strong first impression, instead make an impression.
2. Be Positive
The words and attitudes used within a group have an impact on all of those in and around it. By having a positive attitude and using language reflecting that attitude as part of our regular vocabulary, others are put at ease and left in a more optimistic and creative state. This creates a more effective and creative team.
The strongest leaders are able to use conflict as a positive, creating opportunity and learning when differences arise. Being able to train your mindset to not necessarily have the answers, but be able to see the opportunity in the problem, people will be more likely to share more information and confide in you further establishing your relationship.
A great part of being positive is the ability to have fun. Being able to bring a lightness to otherwise difficult or mundane tasks makes everyone feel more energized and fulfilled by the process and completion. Being positive and fun also means people from diverse backgrounds will want to work with you giving you a larger network and talent pool for a given project or ambition.
3. Use Positive Body Language
Our body language gives people more than half of the information they take in to determine what we are thinking or feeling during any point of our interaction. This is where things, like smiling, making eye contact, leaning in when someone is talking, and ensuring we are not crossing our arms when we are actually interested in an idea is important.
By acting open and positive, even when we do not feel that way, we are actually able to change how our brain is functioning. Thus things like smiling are of vital importance for a leader to be likable.
4. Act with Emotional Intelligence
Each person is unique. They have their own set of thoughts, feelings, emotional reactions, experiences, wants and needs that make them and us, who we each are. Knowing how to navigate this diversity to get the best out of each person is where emotional intelligence comes in.
Leaders are able to routinely acknowledge their emotions, understand why they are having them, and realize each emotion affects the people around them. It also involves an understanding of how certain perceptions of others came to be. Is this person bringing up a past issue or incident, or reminding you of someone you liked or disliked?
Understanding the emotions of all those involved in a group allows leaders to manage relationships and themselves more effectively.
5. Stay Even-Keeled
The most likable leaders are steady tempered with predictable emotional fluctuations that take the ups and downs of business in stride. They do not overreact to issues that arise and are modest in celebrating success.
Being able to maintain consistency and calmness in one’s behavior gives a sense of safety and security to those around you. By creating an environment where people feel safe they are more likely to give their trust to you and perform better in daily tasks.
Staying calm and even-keeled also allows the brain to think more clearly and process problems more efficiently. When we are calm all areas of the brain are able to engage in problem-solving. When humans react to a situation sending the brain into flight, fight or freeze mode, the brain becomes flooded with chemicals designed to help us survive.
Unfortunately, this process also prevents us from then accessing other centers of the brain creating less creative, and potentially sub-par solutions.
6. Remain Approachable
When people know they are able to speak openly when something comes up, issues, problems, and ideas can be conveyed earlier. This can lead to a more efficient system as things are addressed before ballooning and solutions can be implemented sooner. By ensuring that others feel at ease and calm when they want to talk, they are more easily able to be creative and will be more likely to divulge relevant information they would otherwise withhold. They will be able to do their best work even when in the presence of their leader.
Often times people simply need a sounding board. By having someone they trust, who is also knowledgable, to work through issues and problems, stronger outcomes can occur; more than one perspective will have been used during the creation of the solution.
Few things make someone feel of more value then being listened to. One of the parts of listening that a lot of people struggle with is not thinking about answers to questions or responses while the other person is talking. By focusing on the other person we allow ourselves a greater capacity to understand and make sense of what the other person is saying.
When listening carefully leaders are able to more fully understand the perspectives, challenges, opportunities, and capabilities of others. This, in turn, sets the leader up for success as they are able to predict and plan for any issues that may arise or seize opportunities that may have been missed. It also allows for the assurance that all parties fully understand what is being asked of them.
Part of listening includes asking questions. These can be very specific questions or more broad fact-finding questions.
Currently, technology, though it has improved business processes, has also hampered our ability to connect with others. By putting away technology, cell phones, tablets, and laptops, we are allowing ourselves to more fully engage with others around us. These items often pull our attention, even without us noticing it. We check the time on our phones, look at the screen and see if there are new messages popping up, see our home screen photo and start thinking about that. All these little pieces as up to a lot of time distracted from what we are supposed to be focusing on. Take a few minutes to put technology out of sight so you won’t be habitually checking your screen.
If you need to take notes, buy a notebook.
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
8. Be Honest
In order to be a leader, one must have the trust of others. By being truthful and sincere, an example is set for others. Creating this standard for behaviors allows for others to be held to the same standard. This helps build a positive and trust focused relationship.
By instilling the importance of honesty and being an example, issues of self-accountability and responsibility are more easily able to be addressed. When people are allowed to be honest about issues and capabilities, problems are able to be worked through and resolved more effectively.
Honesty does not mean divulging every piece of information you have. It does mean telling people what they need in order to do their job or task to the level expected of them. Though a group of staff does not need to know why a co-worker is away on an extended leave, they do need to know when they are expected back (if there is a date), what the expectations of them will be during this time, if schedules will be changes, budget will be altered or training of temporary staff will occur, as it applies to their role. By hiding or waiting to give this information, confusion, frustration, and anger can breed. This is counterproductive to the ultimate goal of achieving a vision.
9. Have Integrity
Having integrity demonstrates strict adherence to a moral and ethical code. This requires that a person not only be honest but also do what they view as right, even at a cost to them.
Acting with integrity requires taking action. This may include standing up for someone or something, taking or sharing the blame, and earning people’s trust through sincerity and honesty, amongst other things.
Having integrity lets people know what is and is not acceptable behavior and actions. They are required to make decisions that may not be easy but are viewed as the right things to do. The leader will defend the actions and decisions made by others as they align with what they view as their moral responsibility.
10. Be Genuine
Genuine leaders act like themselves in all environments and situations. They are driven by a personal vision and standard of expectation for themselves. Their self-confidence allows them to be comfortable not only sharing with strengths and abilities but also their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
At all times, genuine leaders are true to their morals, values, ethics, and motivations applying them to everything they do. Their goal is to provide value to their work and those around them. They convey this by sharing concerns, thoughts, and ideas in an effort for team improvement and fulfillment of their vision and the organization’s vision; not for the purpose of self-enhancement or leaving a legacy, but instead because they actually care about the goals and visions they are working towards. This enables them to face issues even when others won’t, being resilient to complaints or criticism.
Being genuine means a deep caring for others around them, understanding people on a personal level, and continually striving to provide value to others while being true to who they are.
11. Remain Humble
Humble leaders maintain a team or group mentality. They understand that their success is only a result of collaboration and that without the efforts of others the successful vision wouldn’t have been achieved. By continually showing their appreciation by promoting and acknowledging others they instill a team mentality.
Being humble means showing others you are human. By acting as part of a team, accepting faults and leveraging them into learning opportunities, leaders can demonstrate that weaknesses can be turned into strengths, thus motivating others to succeed as well.
Build Vision and Accountability
12. Generous with Time
Taking time each day to make a personal connection with people you work with will go a long way in establishing a strong relationship. By creating time away from task completion and getting out into the workforce by talking and listening to people you will be able to capture issues or ideas before they become reactionary.
By allowing people access to you they will also view you as part of their team and trust you more when something does occur. A few minutes go a long way to building bonds with people. Make time for others and they will make time for you.
13. Open with Information
Being open with information does not mean divulging everything, including that which does not apply to their scope of work. Different groups are privy to different amounts of information. With that said, each person does need as much information as deemed necessary to do their job effectively and accurately. If this information is not provided it is very difficult for the individual to do their work effectively and thus they cannot be held accountable.
When there are major changes about to happen it is very easy for rumors to start within a company and unfortunately, sometimes information does get leaked that is not always accurate. Disclosing what we can with the ability to explain how, why, when may not make everyone happy; it does, however, allow for people to receive the most accurate information possible and ask questions.
Ensure that this does not go into oversharing by making sure the information is relevant to them, necessary and will add value to the audience.
14. Recognize Potential in Others
People like to know they are of value and that others see their strengths and potential. Though some people may have no desire to progress within their career they still like to know they are doing a good job. For others, each new job is a stepping stone towards their personal vision for themselves. They will be engaged and eager to learn and develop.
By meeting people where they are at and seeing the strengths and potential for growth in each person we are able to leverage our teams. When able, give extra responsibilities to individuals that desire to progress to help them expand outside their comfort zones allowing for personal growth. Create opportunities for additional experiences, educational learnings, and struggles that will stretch the person’s abilities.
Even if a person wishes to remain in their current position there may be something within their current role that they have seen as an opportunity for them. This could be anything from being a part of planning the company Christmas party to mentoring jr staff to teaching people about a new system that is being implemented, and much more. This needs to be personalized to each individual and should add to their work experience, not take away from it and cause them stress.
Ensure that people are receiving credit and acknowledgment for their strengths and efforts. There are many ways to do this, by getting to know the individual they will tell you what form this will take to ensure your efforts are not in vain. Credit and acknowledgment must be ongoing, only finding out during a yearly employee review will do far less to motivate others than being told throughout the year. This dialogue also opens up more opportunities for growth throughout the year.
15. Be Creative
Being able to see things from different perspectives will allow for more creativity and open up the potential for better solutions. By thinking outside the box and looking at the big picture leaders who get into this habit will set themselves apart. By constantly challenging one’s self to view a problem in a different way than others they will be able to find solutions no one else can see.
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” – Mary Lou Cook
Setting aside time to be creative is also helpful. A lot of people have found that getting outside of their regular work environment helps with this, others say that being able to sit with coworkers and brainstorm works best for them. For some, it is about ensuring they are happy and feel passionate about what they are working on. By staying open to trying new ways of finding out what works to get the creative juices flowing we give ourselves new experiences, thus increasing creative potential by stimulating the brain.
16. Remain Vision Focused
Each day that a leader is able to stay focused on their vision is another step closer to its success. Having a vision that the others know is driving decisions, actions and goals will allow the team to come together, even when times get hard. A leader's main goal is to drive the vision. If they lose sight of this it is easy for the rest of the team to veer off course as well.
Being able to pull everything back to the motivation behind the work can assist in giving people the extra push needed when problems arise. Once the vision is bought into and a purpose is felt by those working towards it they are more likely to find ways to navigate through or around issues, creating victories, instead of giving in to the complications that arise.
17. Take Risks
Doing something different means a willingness to take risks. Each time we take a risk it has the potential for either failure or success. By learning how and when to take calculated risks leaders are able to create wins for their team.
This does involve building up a tolerance for risk, especially as a lot of people are risk-averse. Humans are typically wired in a way that our base motivation is to stay safe and alive. The more we fear we have the higher our risk aversion will be. It is much easier to risk something when we have nothing to lose.
By creating opportunities for failure, learning and working through each, we are then able to take larger risks as there is a pattern of failure, learning, growth, and success established. This opportunity must also be afforded to those surrounding you.
18. Act as an Equal
Great leaders see each member of their workplace as having something of value to bring. They are willing to learn from others and not assume that they know best in every situation. Though the decision may ultimately fall upon them, by pulling from the collective group knowledge and experience they will be able to make the best decision. In involving and utilizing others, they will also have the support from their team no matter what occurs.
By focusing on the team, and being an active part in it, growing and gaining insight from others, when a decision does need to be made by them that will affect the team they will be able to make one that will have the best outcome.
Create Opportunities For Personal Growth and Development
19. Make Mistakes
A big part of chasing after a vision and taking risks is the ability to allow for room for mistakes. The goal with mistakes is to make them quickly, learn from them and move forward. By setting mistakes up as necessary parts of success they are not given the power to derail or discourage efforts from the goal or vision.
When addressing mistakes, leaders need to have the ability to separate the person from the problem. By focusing on how and why the issue occurred it is easier to prevent it in the future. Being non-judgemental towards themselves and others when mistakes do occur allows for people to come forward sooner, creating the opportunity to fix the mistake right away.
When a “no mistake’s allowed” environment is created people will still make mistakes, they will just put more effort into covering them up, potentially wasting a large amount of time and effort. This mistake may also cause a ripple effect or errors that they are unaware of, resulting in more time and effort in finding out the root cause of the problem. This is an ineffective way of doing business as it wastes more time and energy than necessary, taking away from other opportunities.
20. Get Their Hands Dirty
Time after time leaders need to see what is happening at the various levels that affect their portfolio. Taking time to build trust and relationships with those at all levels will give different perspectives to problems and create an environment of trust and mutual respect. Viewing these interactions for opportunities to grow the business will create added value for the people within the organization as well.
The most relevant example of this is the show, Undercover Boss. The basic premise of the show is the head or executive of a company goes undercover and works in a position where people do not recognize them to identify issues within the organization that are typically not brought to that level of management. They are then able to start addressing some of these issues to improve the company for its employees and clients.
The basic premise of this show is something that is able to be applied through business without going to the extent of having to go and work a variety of jobs within the company. By talking with people at all levels and being willing to address these foundational issues people at all levels will become empowered, know they have a voice and gain mutual respect for their leaders.
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” —John C. Maxwell