As we kick off 2023, we’re re-engaging with the acronym of ELASTIC. I wrote on Energy in December and introduced you to people who exemplify it, and now it’s time to turn our attention to Likeability.

I had reservations about including likeability — it seems subjective, and lacking in gravitas. But as I researched influential leaders, it kept cropping up. So it made the cut.

Why? Because people are naturally drawn to those they genuinely enjoy and respect. A leader who can build positive relationships with their team is more likely to be able to guide them towards success. Effective leaders need to be persuasive, and both evidence and experience suggest that people are most likely to be persuaded by a person they trust and enjoy. If you need something done, you’ll approach someone with whom you have high relational currency first.

Likeability is admittedly more of an outcome than a goal, but there are proven ways to increase it — so it can rightly be considered a skill, not just a trait. Being authentic and sincere, transparent in your interactions with others, true to your values, open to feedback, positive and empathetic are great places to start.

But likeability does have its pitfalls. Because people are often more drawn to those who are similar to them, an emphasis on likeability can potentially reinforce the status quo and limit diversity of perspectives. It can also be confused with “niceness” — which takes us into problematic territory that is often highly gendered in inequitable ways.

So, my mixed feelings about likeability persist. But I stand by the importance of building strong relationships as a lubricant for inspiring and motivating people to do their best work.

Next week, you’ll meet some people whose well-honed relational skills are having a big impact in their communities.

In the meantime, as we turn the calendar to a new year, I want to be sure you are aware of some upcoming key dates:

January 10 – A free information session about the upcoming workshop series on ELASTIC leadership. Join us to see if this personal development opportunity is a good match for you between now and June.

January 20Wiser by Choice begins — the book club where you don’t have to read the books, but can get up to speed on 4-6 leadership titles in an hour because I’ve read them for you. Our first session of 2023 will focus on Forging a Positive Path Forward.

January 20ELASTIC workshop series begins. Eight sessions that dig into real-life application of the concepts in my new book, designed for those who learn best through conversation, questions and connection. Registration is limited to 24 people — join this opportunity to engage directly with the author before this material is made available to other facilitators and coaches.

February 7 – Book release date! ELASTIC: Stretch without snapping or snapping back will be available. It’s a book that’s been crafted collaboratively, and it will be sold that way too. Buying ELASTIC on or around its release date helps us achieve bestseller status on Amazon. And if you leave a review there once you’ve read it, there will be prizes to be won! Stay tuned for a purchase link and an invitation to our digital launch party happening in early March.

I’ll look forward to seeing many of you at one or more of these upcoming events — thank you in advance for your support. And even more than a happy new year, I wish you a year of wisdom, meaning, clarity, energy and joy.

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Catherine Wassmansdorf

Catherine Wassmansdorf is the Education Program Manager at The Riverwood Conservancy.

Pivoting work in experiential outdoor education during the pandemic was a lesson in adaptability for Catherine, who adjusted her personal practices, relied on the support and confidence of her organization’s leadership and colleagues, and leaned on their shared mission. She discovered new ways of delivering dynamic and effective programs digitally—including unexpectedly popular online Turtle Time—some of which allowed new participants to join in the fun. She also learned about the limits of adaptability, when constraints did not allow programs to translate well to online environments. “We now have a new capacity,” Catherine says. “We have a sense that we have forged multiple pathways that will help us if and when we have to adapt again.”

Jay Reid and Hayley Kellett

Jay Reid and Hayley Kellett are co-founders of the improv-based corporate training organization The Making-Box.

From roots in theatre, Hayley and Jay use improv principles and skills to help their clients experience change as energizing rather than depleting. The principle of letting go equips teams for uncertainty, while the skill of noticing distinguishes between faux adaptability and factors needed for real change. “’Yes-and’ helps us work together in polarized situations,” says Hayley while Jay says, “There are deeper outcomes in the notion of practicing playfulness together,” pointing to studies demonstrating the practical value of humour in creating psychological safety for teams. The Making-Box itself draws on these principles and over the last few years has itself been a case study in adaptability as it shifted its model and service delivery methods.

Terry Cooke and Annette Aquin

Terry Cooke is the President and CEO, and Annette Aquin is Executive Vice President Finance and Operations of the Hamilton Community Foundation

Rather than likeability being a goal, Annette says it’s an outcome of the work they do—and how they do it. Because community foundations engage in potentially divisive issues, Terry and Annette say decisions must be firmly rooted in research and their organization’s values. Relationships past, present and future drive their work as they acknowledge their debt to those before them. They work hard at building trust, inclusivity, and true collaboration with their community and look to a solid future by hiring well, mentoring, responding to emerging opportunities, and, as Terry says, “creating space for the next person to do what is best.”

John Neufeld 

John Neufeld is the Executive Director of the House of Friendship. 

Building strong rapport is important to John because of his personal story as an immigrant. “I just didn’t fit in. That’s why I’m passionate about House of Friendship—because we make sure everyone belongs.” Investing in relationships and culture, connecting at a human level and tapping into the strengths of his team are key elements of likeability. But John recognizes that rather than seeking to be liked, leaders need to harness courage and passion to make tough decisions, work hard and deliver on their promises. Likeability is a proxy for that kind of integrity. He says, “One of the best pieces of leadership advice I was ever given was to look for ways to add value to other people’s lives.”

Jim Moss and Dave Whiteside

Jim Moss and Dave Whiteside are longtime colleagues, first at Plasticity Labs and now at YMCA of Three Rivers's YMCA WorkWell where Jim is the Leader of Community Development and Dave is the Director of Insights. 

YMCA WorkWell has a mandate to build healthier, thriving organizations and their work offers relevant, evidence-based, recent Canadian data on how organizations can help their people find the right stretch. In their work, Jim and Dave engage in practical and fresh thinking on depletion, burnout, managing your own and your employees' energy. "An elastic needs to be engaged to be useful," says Jim while Dave adds that the last few years have been "a natural experiment that's allowed us to know where we could stretch and where it's not optimal." 

Emma Rogers 

Emma Rogers is the CEO of the Children's Foundation of Guelph and Wellington and the co-founder of the community philanthropy charity Guelph Gives. 

In a social good sector devoted to making every dollar have impact and where everyone is working harder than ever, Emma has a new appreciation of the currency of energy. "It's the most valuable thing I can give someone, and vice versa." Her own energy is admirable and is fueled by her passion for innovation and by the stories of impact from her work, but she leads her team with more than inspiring stories. Instead, Emma implements innovative practices and knows that enabling team members to show up as their best selves is an excellent investment in accomplishing their mission.