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Management: Animals, Behave

3 minute read
Andrea Sachs

Backstabbing. Betrayals. Firings. You need look no further than the top ranks of the Walt Disney Co. in recent years to know that likeability isn’t necessarily a required characteristic for the corner-office job. But could CEO Michael Eisner, for example, have been more effective as a manager at Disney if he had been friendlier? Tim Sanders, a Yahoo! executive and author of the new self-help manual The Likeability Factor (Crown; 220 pages), thinks so. “Good things happen to you in business when you’re emotionally attractive,” insists Sanders.

With passion, he sets forth instructions for an executive or employee trying to get ahead or even just survive. He didn’t invent these precepts; Dale Carnegie, the granddaddy of self-improvement, sold more than 30 million copies of his 1936 classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by advocating similar behavior. But Sanders’ book is a pleasing restatement of some basic principles. People who find these truths to be self-evident are likely to be the ones who need them least. “Men are the worst at this,” Sanders reports. “They won’t smile.”

Why does likeability matter in business? A person who gives others “a sense of joy, happiness, relaxation or rejuvenation,” says Sanders, is more likely to be hired, promoted and retained. According to research, he says, likeable bosses, rather than inconsiderate or feared ones, get the best work out of employees. Nastiness, which he says is rampant, translates into less productivity, higher turnover and a culture of unhappiness. And don’t assume, in this day of BlackBerrys and e-mail, that your unpleasantness stops at the office door. “As the brick wall that once separated professional from personal crumbles,” says Sanders, “we are slowly becoming the same person 24/7.”

Sanders, the Johnny Appleseed of likeability, has high ambitions for the world of work. “Every business culture should be a friendly place,” he says. “There are many companies I work with that have abolished unfriendliness. They actually call the system IONU: I observe no unfriendliness. What it means is that unfriendliness will never be tolerated.”

Raising your L-factor, as Sanders calls it, is like attaining physical fitness. There are four qualities to practice. The most important is friendliness. This may seem obvious, but “if you are not friendly,” he says, “you will have to work exponentially harder to be likeable.” The second is relevance: “If you possess a skill that will help someone complete a task, you are relevant to that person. If you appeal to someone’s need to laugh, your relevance is your sense of humor.” Third comes empathy: Slow down and walk a mile in your colleagues’ wing tips. Finally, keep it real. Your colleagues can spot a phony.

So what’s in it for the friendly guy? Sanders points to Howard Stringer, the new chairman of Sony, as a prime example of likeability’s triumphing. “He’s funny, he’s irreverent, he’s playful,” says Sanders, who has worked with Stringer. “In the end, he won the hearts of the Japanese executives at Sony. That’s why they gave him the crown, much to the surprise of the world.”

For those who find likeability too much of a stretch, Sanders advises that at the very least they should strive to be polite. The basic rules are pretty, well, basic: No screaming, hanging up phones, slamming doors and expressing biting sarcasm. The bottom line for really slow learners: “Just be quiet and stop being so unfriendly.”

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