I started at the bottom. In 1984, nobody would’ve put money on me to become the CEO of an international corporation or get an IPO done in the toughest economic times in recent history. If I look back on my career, the common denominator—the one skill—that made the most difference for me was likeability.
Now, first let me say that being likeable isn’t enough. You’ve got to be incredibly competent in your industry. But once you can say you’re very good at the fundamentals, your likeability factor is what will separate you from the pack.
Related: 10 Habits of Ultra-Likeable Leaders
At the height of the financial collapse, co-CEO Rick Williams and I were in a huge negotiation to take our company public and save the jobs of thousands of good people. There were times we were not friendly across the negotiation table because of the issues we were facing. But we also built relationships with the people on the other side. We’d sit in that room with them and talk about their families and their lives. I’d tell them a funny story from my life. We would connect.
Really hard things got done in those rooms because those people didn’t walk away at the end of the day thinking we were just some jerks trying to get our way. They could see that we were guys with principles trying to look out for our people. They liked us. So they helped us.
Over the years, I’ve observed seven principles of likeability that I encourage you to practice.
Now, I mean, truly smile. When you walk around, don’t keep your earbuds in and tap on your phone screen. Look up, take a few minutes to smile and greet people you pass in the hall or at the lunch counter. Say, “Hello, how’s it going?” The kind of influence this has on people will surprise you because nobody does it anymore. I walk through an airport and I look at somebody and go, “Hey, how’re you doing today?” They smile so big you’d think I just handed them a cupcake. Great communication starts with your smile.
2. Look at people.
After smiling, eye contact is the biggest principle of likeability. Don’t stare, and don’t look off into the distance while they’re talking. Learn to connect with the people you’re interacting with by looking them in the eye. That connection enables you to have influence and the ability to get things done.
3. Don’t be moody.
I’ve worked with people who one day are Dr. Jekyll and the next day are Mr. or Mrs. Hyde. One day: friendly and laughing. The next day: yelling and cussing. Have an even temper, a predictable personality. Now, I’m not saying that you’ve got to be in a great mood every day, but work hard to not let your personal issues control your interaction with other people. All of us are carrying around our own bag full of snakes. We’re all wrestling with whatever we’re dealing with on any given day. Do your best to stay on an even keel.
4. Work on yourself.
Likeable people are usually big on personal improvement. They’re constantly trying to get better. I believe that while there are certain aspects of our personalities that stay with us forever, we’re either getting better or we’re getting worse every single day. Whether it’s how you dress, how you think, how you communicate—whatever—consistently improve yourself.
5. Don’t be judgmental.
I have very strong opinions. That said, when I am in my business world, I keep those opinions to myself. When you’re sitting at home in your den and you don’t have to worry about the morale of your team, you can think and say what you like. But when you’re in a team environment with a variety of people, you’ve got to leave your judgments and opinions at the door. People have more common ground than they do differences. Find the things you all agree on. Be somebody that can get along with people who have a completely different walk in life than you have. The easiest thing in the world is to divide people. It takes a real leader to work with people who don’t think like you do.
6. Don’t be an attention hog.
I’ve got a big personality. I’ve never met a microphone that I didn’t like. If I’m not careful, I’ll just walk in and dominate a room with my personality. So this is one of the things that I have to watch with myself. When you’re part of a team, and particularly when you’re the person out in front, you’ve got to remember it’s about “we” not “me.” Your team has got to believe that you’re all in this together, that you’re not just trying to get another accolade. When people feel like you truly appreciate them, that you recognize their efforts, that you don’t put yourself above them, they’re going to help you get things done.
7. Be quick to apologize.
This is one of the greatest ways, as Dale Carnegie would say, to win friends and influence people. When you’re in business, people get mad at you. There have been times people were upset at me about things I didn’t even know I’d done. What I learned to do was apologize right away. Diffuse the tension. It doesn’t matter if you were most at fault or not. Be the first person to put the grudge aside. I’ve watched someone hold a lifelong grudge that all started because he argued with a guy about who should pay for a rental car back in 1980. Grudges are very rarely a matter of principle. They’re a matter of ego. Let it go. Be the person who makes problems go away, not the one who makes problems worse.