If you want to be a leader whom people enjoy working with and spending lots of after-hours time with at events, you have to be likeable. Tyrants and even curmudgeons with a brilliant vision can command a reluctant following to put on the conference of a lifetime, but they quickly burn people out.


Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, a provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving Fortune 500 companies.


Dr. Bradberry sat with the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and discussed his favorite habits of likeable leaders. Becoming a more likeable leader is completely under your control, and according to Dr. Bradberry it’s a matter of emotional intelligence (EQ). Unlike fixed characteristics, such as your intelligence (IQ), EQ is a flexible skill that you can improve with effort.


So which professional habits stand out? According to Dr. Bradberry’s research – approachability, humility, and positivity. Dr. Bradberry says his own “research data from more than a million people shows that leaders who possess these three qualities aren’t just highly likeable, they outperform those who don’t possess them by a large margin.” 


General likeability results from acquirable skills that are crucial to your professional success. Just like any other professional planner skill (such as time management or vendor management), you can study and adapt these qualities to your own style. The following list from the HBR are key behaviors that emotionally intelligent leaders engage in that make them so likeable.


1. They’re Approachable

You know those people who only have time for you if you can do something for them? Likeable leaders truly believe that everyone, regardless of rank or ability, is worth their time and attention. They make everyone feel valuable, because they believe that everyone is valuable. Likeable leaders communicate on a very personal, emotional level. They never forget that there’s a flesh-and-blood human being standing in front of them.


2. They’re Humble

Few things kill likeability as quickly as arrogance. Likeable leaders don’t act as though they’re better than you, because they don’t think that they’re better than you. Rather than being a source of prestige, they see their leadership position as bringing them additional accountability for serving those who follow them.


3. They’re Positive

Likeable leaders always maintain a positive outlook, and this shows in how they describe things. They don’t have to give a presentation to the board of directors; they get to share their vision and ideas with the board. They don’t have to go on a plant tour; they get to meet and visit with the people who make their company’s products. Even in undeniably negative situations, likeable leaders radiate an enthusiastic hope for the future, a confidence that they can help make tomorrow better.


4. They’re Generous

We’ve all worked for someone who constantly holds something back, whether it’s knowledge or resources. They’re afraid you’ll outshine them if they give you access to everything you need to do your job. Likeable leaders are unfailingly generous with whom they know, what they know, and the resources they have access to. They want you to do well more than anything else because they understand that this is their job as a leader. They’re confident enough to never worry that your success might make them look bad. In fact, they believe that your success is their success.


5. They Have Substance

Likeable leaders understand that their knowledge and expertise are critical to the success of everyone who follows them. Therefore, they regularly connect with people to share their substance (as opposed to superficial small talk). Likeable leaders don’t puff themselves up or pretend to be something they’re not, because they don’t have to. They have substance, and they share it with their people.