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How Being Likable is better than Being Competent

I had an occasion to hire a young boy to paint a room in my house. At 19 he is an errant youth, lackadaisical and irresponsible. We understand, of course, that all youths are inexperienced but we trade the inexperience for cheap labor. In this case, in additional to the unreliability of a neighborhood boy, the kid was hard to like. His infrequent visits to perform the work wore on me more than the labor would have and finally I had to cancel our arrangement. (Of course, I paid him the full amount for a totally unfinished project)

And then my nephew called. Of the same age he was looking for some summer work to fill the time during the days instead of sleeping so he could make some cash to pay for gas, insurance, and girls. Equally as qualified as the previous candidate I spent a lot of time on instruction and missed “days” where the call of summer was stronger than the allure of labor. Yet, the time he showed was/is totally enjoyable. I found myself, more and more, assisting for free. Working alongside him; each sharing stories and anecdotes, and thoroughly enjoying my time.

And that is the rub, right? Dr. Jordan Peterson suggests the job of parents is to help children grow up well socialized and a pleasure to be around. And, there it is. Labor that is a pleasure to be around is a pleasure! You find yourself spending more time and more energy investing in people that are a pleasure to be around. Often in coaching we see this issue come up time and again with clients at the South Florida Professional Coaching Alliance. People are supremely technically competent and are passed over for promotion time and again. Their bosses and colleagues do not want to hang around them. Why can no one see the obvious technical merit in the work and the labor? The answer, surprisingly and counter-intuitively: people don’t care about the results. People want to work with people that are a pleasure to be around.

Certainly, develop and maintain a technical competence. If you want to do well in the eyes of others and have your boss and your colleagues take a disproportionate amount of effort in you then YOU need to give them a reason. And the reason is not going to be technical skill. In fact, the more skilled you are the less time your boss will likely spend with you! Work may be assigned via an email or a quick conversation and while you go a toil in quite competence for forty-hours getting things done your boss and your work-mates will be socializing and enjoying each others company and at the end of the day your work will be judged as less valuable!

Find the balance. Find a way to perform with a supreme focus on being likable and putting people first. Make people feel special, help others feel important. Huckleberry Finn was the friend to all boys not because he was so industrious but because he was so likable. Do you want to be the go to person for the Weekend Work or your Bosses Huckleberry?

Ennis Lynch

Ennis Lynch

Ennis Lynch is a Professional Coach Based in South Florida. His primary area of coaching focuses on coaching Software Engineering Leadership. On occasion he does Agile Transformation work as well but prefers coaching at the Team and Individual level vs. the organizational level.

If you have ever wondered: is professional coaching right for you ? Are you a Software Engineering Manager, Director of Engineering, Director of Software Engineering, VP of Engineering, or CTO reach out for a free initial coaching session. Initial coaching sessions are the real deal, no hard-sells, no "here is what you would get if you paid". Individuals that receive a free coaching session will get a normal private professional coaching session of 90 minutes (30 minute onboarding + 60 minute coaching) and it will be up to you to follow-up if you want to continue with help on your journey.

Ennis Lynch

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