Likeability: A Factor in Managerial Success
A 2007 survey in which 90,000 employees from all over the world were interviewed revealed that only 20% of those questioned were attempting to perform to their utmost abilities in the workforce. The remaining 80% were reported to be disengaged (Bhargava). What was the cause of the overwhelmingly lackluster workplace attitudes? A number of researchers have identified the root of the cause in a failure of leadership to personally interact and form bonds of human sympathy with subordinates (Bhargava; Pink; Holmes). Indeed, Daniel Pink has shown in his best-selling work Drive that leaders who demonstrate likeability in the workplace actually have a higher success rate in motivating teams in the long run. Likeable managers establish workplace cultures that provide a necessary foundation for attracting, forming and keeping autonomous, masterful and purpose-driven employees in their workplace environment. This paper will show how likeability is a factor in management and how it can be effectively utilized to overcome employee disengagement.
What is likeability? Likeability has been defined many different ways. Daniel Pink describes it as an outward show of trust between two people, which is maintained by a mutual sense of authenticity and transparency. Bhargava, on the other hand, describes likeability as a recipe of empathy, sympathy, charity, and the "ability to offer value" (108). Thus, it may be said that managerial likeability in the workplace is more than just good-natured friendliness; it is a kind of intellectual and emotional glue that brings two or more people together in a feeling and/or knowledge of oneness, togetherness, openness, camaraderie, and mission. Underlying the "friendly" aspect of likeability is the awareness of being part of a task, whose goal is clear, recognized, desirable, and attainable.
Furthermore, successful management has been defined in terms which utilize the concept of likeability. Luthans asserts that success in management is not a result of engaging in "the same day-to-day activities as effective managers" but rather in those activities designed to "find the way to get ahead…to be friendly…both inside and outside the firm…[to] find a common interest [among all]…and interact with them on that level (130). Luthans's concept of successful management is echoed by Chet Holmes, author of the best-selling The Ultimate Sales Machine. Holmes insists that successful managers are as concerned about the people with whom they surround themselves as they are about making progress in the workplace, going beyond the status-quo, and increasing sales, morale, demand, and growth. Success is built on forging relationships, and relationships are built on likeability, as defined above.
To show to what degree the above is true, and to what degree likeability is a factor in managerial success, a number of studies have been performed in recent years. One way to examine to what degree likeability is a factor in managerial success, is to examine what happens when that factor is non-existent. Michael Lewis described a loss of one of the fundamental aspects of likeability -- authenticity -- when he recounted the global economic crisis of 2007-8 in his book The Big Short. Lewis noted that there existed on Wall Street a mentality of "false conviction," palpable in several firms, where firms' managers and team goals were detached from reality (114). The allurement of easy money through the selling of bundles of bad debts to unsuspecting buyers triggered a massive backlash when people began to realize that the risk of buying these bad debts far outweighed the reward. Reality re-asserted itself on every level. The conviction that managers brought to subordinates turned overnight into fear and helplessness, as thousands of employees were laid off -- employees who had "bought into" the false convictions of their leaders. Had their managers been more authentic in their approach to their goals of selling, they may have realized the terrible risk associated with these bad debts before they eagerly began their buying and selling.
One reason that managerial likeability is lost is that there is poor communication between manager and subordinates. Tourish and Hargie show in their research that to guard against the sort of "false convictions" that enabled the 2007-8 economic crisis, managers should conduct a communication audit (133). A communication audit lets managers know how communication flows in the workplace, whether it is a one-way flow, from top-down, or a two-way flow, top-down and back up. Their research indicates that communication flows in most workplace environments are still merely one-way, which may account for the reason that 80% of employees feel disconnected. According to Tourish and Hargie, communication is "still regarded as something that managers do to their subordinates; they drop information like depth charges on to those employees submerged in the organizational ocean but make it very clear that they do not expect to receive any feedback torpedoes in return" (132).
Tourish and Hargie make clear that one-way flow is undesirable on many levels: first, one-way communication means that information is only coming in one direction -- typically from top-down -- which in turn suggests that the subordinate cannot readily send information back to his or her superior. Such a one-way street creates the possibility of having an uninformed management team, a team which will fail to know and/or understand how its subordinates are handling and/or using the information which has come down to them from above. Tourish and Hargie argue that a more likeable approach to communication is a two-way communication channel, by which subordinates can communicate with superiors and relay necessary information when said information needs relaying. This approach is more likeable because it rests on the principle of transparency. Access routes are open and available. Employees can be confident that the sharing of information is possible, acceptable, and encouraged, thus allowing the overall workplace climate to be satisfactory. When such a two-way channel is missing, the climate can quickly sour.
Nonetheless, Tourish and Hargie note that certain ethical dilemmas can arise in any workplace regarding communication flows. One such problem is the "see no evil, hear no evil" approach, which allows individuals who would rather not deal with communicating unwelcome news. By pretending not to see conflict and by not reporting on it, they imagine they shield themselves from potential danger. Just culture confidential reporting systems have been established by some companies, but there is much research to indicate that such systems only work so long as those who manage the workplace conduct themselves according to the same ethical principles that they expect from their employees. And when no principles are expected, failure is a likely result, as Lewis shows in his Wall Street study. In short, likeability is a factor in successful management because it is supported by principles which are associated with a universal idea of goodness and rightness. Without such an idea and the necessary will to act accordingly, managers can lead their subordinates down a path of failure.
What makes the issue even more complicated is the fact that "looking the other way" can be hailed by some as a likeable trait, whereas by others it can be hailed as an unlikable trait. It is precisely such a subjective view of likeability that has led some critics to argue that likeability should not be regarded as an important factor in workplace success. Indeed, the problem of subjectivity is a serious one that must be considered. At what point does objective analysis give way to subjectivity? Richard Weaver makes the case in his book Ideas Have Consequences that the possession of universal notions are essential to the formation and sustainability of any culture or community. Without accepting a universal (or objective) notion of likeability, it is difficult to contend that likeability is a factor in managerial success. One must be clear that when likeability is discussed, it is being discussed (in so far as this report is concerned) as defined at the beginning of this report. Subjective interpretations may occur in the workplace environment. But how do they shape worker success? Do subjective considerations have an impact? The example of Enron provides a fitting context in which these questions may be answered.
The management team of Enron consisted of a team of men, most of whom were considered likeable. The problem was the age-old problem of the "likeable villain," which Shakespeare depicted in Othello through the character of Iago. At Enron, the likeable "bad guys" were Andy Fastow, Enron's CFO, Jeff Skilling, Enron's CEO, and Ken Lay, Enron's COB. As Elkind and McLean report, the company's "financials didn't make sense" (8). But none of these men felt it imperative to make the financials "make sense" -- both were more concerned with what they could get away with by making the "books" too confusing to comprehend by outside investors. They erected a Ponzi scheme. On the outside, they appeared likeable. And even on the inside, to those insiders who were in on the scheme, such as Fastows friends and subordinates, the plan was "likeable." But it was not likeable according to any universal understanding of rightness. "Likeability" at Enron meant…[continue]
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