Likability Is a Key Factor in Career Success

I recently read an article that stated the new area of focus that professionals have identified as a key factor in career success is likability. This was not a surprise to me. I’ve known this and have seen it at play for many years.

In the late 1990s when I worked at Pfizer, I had an important client who was responsible for IT in our Asia-Pacific region. He was a bright, talented and demanding person with high expectations and an important agenda. My team collaborated with him to implement a regional suite of infrastructure capabilities that were critical for his success.

At the end of the project, the client gave me a wonderful compliment—one that I have never forgotten: “Larry, your team did a great job, and the results were outstanding. But beyond that, we really enjoyed working with you and your team and look forward to having the opportunity to partner with you in the future.”

Wind the clock forward 20 years, and that client and I have become close personal friends, who still make the time and effort to get together for dinner, in spite of the fact that we live seven hours from each other.

Why It Pays to Be Likable

How many of you have ever watched America Idol? Come on, you can admit it! For many people, American Idol is what I consider a guilty pleasure. My wife has always loved the show, and since I love my wife, I’ve watched it with her.

It’s always been hard for me to watch the show and not be judgmental because (little known fact) I actually play guitar and am the lead singer in a rock band. While I’m not giving up my day job, I do know something about what a good vocal performance sounds like.

A number of years ago when we watched the show, the finals came down to two talented young men: Chris Allen and Adam Lambert. Chris was a very nice kid with a pleasant voice and a laid-back vibe. (For those of you who are my age, think a younger version of James Taylor.) He has a kind of Midwestern sensibility to him.

Adam, on the other hand, was in your face and flamboyant. The guy has amazing vocal range: Whenever he sang, my garage door would open! I remember referring to him as the second coming of Freddie Mercury. (It’s funny how I was prophetic about that, since years later, he is actually touring with Queen as their front man!)

After the two performed, all three of the judges (even the cranky Simon Cowell!) stated that they felt Adam was the clear choice. The next night, Ryan Seacrest opened the envelope and said, “Your next American Idol is … (drum roll) Chris Allen!”

I was blown away! Didn’t America hear what I heard? While Chris was a talented young man, Adam was clearly the better singer.

I turned to my wife and asked her, “Who did you vote for?” She said she voted for Chris. I asked her why, since Adam was clearly the better singer. She said she voted for Chris because she liked him better.

How many of you have someone in your company who is very talented but a pain in the neck to work with? How do you feel when that person’s name comes up on your phone? Do you have to take a minute to go to your happy place before you can deal with him or her?

Always remember that people choose to work with us. So being competent and effective is not enough. We also have to be likable, so that people will work with us by choice, not by mandate.

Larry Bonfante is an award-winning CIO with 35 years of experience in the IT industry. As the founder of CIO Bench Coach, he has served as an executive coach and trusted adviser to executives at some of the most prestigious companies in the world. You can contact him on email at and follow him on Twitter at @bonfante.


Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at

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