How Does Likability Influence the Way You Lead?

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leadershipOver the years, I’ve been asked to keynote different education events, learning institutes, and opening days for professional development initiatives. I’ve also lead single-day professional development sessions on very specific topics of interest.

This isn’t the kind of work that I like best, but events like these typically serve a worthy purpose. They’re also a whole lot of fun. After all, I get to light up the room with new ideas and potential solutions. Teachers often leave with a bounty of resources, showering me with thanks as they head out the door. A few will hang around to talk shop afterward. They’ll treat me like an expert and may even call me one. Later, their administrators will drop me a quick line to thank me for the day.

I’ll grow increasingly uncomfortable with this.

“My teachers really loved working with you,” they’ll say. I’ll tell them that events like these remind me of weddings: we all know what happens when the honeymoon is over. Seasoned leaders appreciate this sentiment, and they know from experience that I’m only half-joking.

Events can serve as catalysts for professional development, but there is a significant difference between getting people excited and helping them arrive at their intended destination. Events make heroes of us all, as long we’ve made an effort to engage people.

We have to be willing to lose the cape if we’re in it for the long haul, though.

Leadership is different.

There’s nothing that can wreck a great professional learning facilitator as well as ego can, and there’s nothing that builds it better than successfully pulling off an event. True professional development is far more complex work, and it typically leaves everyone involved feeling far less certain.

Someone I respect very much once reminded me that when it come to leading change, discomfort doesn’t always signal trouble. I know that I’ve watched some of the best-loved consultants on earth wreak havoc on a system because they valued their relationships with teachers more than their commitment to quality work.

“Whether or not you’re liked is irrelevant,” my mentor told me. “You have to be willing to speak the truth consistently in order to be trusted. You’ll need to be willing to be disliked sometimes. You’ll need to be willing to dislike others too.”

In my experience, truer and more important words have never been spoken.

When has discomfort signaled progress in your world?

When have been you been willing to be disliked?

How do you negotiate those tensions and maintain stamina over the long haul?

I reflect on this often. 

I’ve found no answers yet.

How about you?

How does likability influence the way you lead?

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at

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