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You’re Likable Enough, Hillary

Barrack Obama told Hillary Clinton that she was likable enough, and she never recovered.

In 2008, the U.S. Democratic Party brought the Presidential Primary race to New Hampshire. A debate was held between four candidates including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. During the event the moderator directed a question at Senator Clinton, “You are the most experienced and the most electable. … But what can you say to the voters of New Hampshire who see your resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue? They seem to like Barrack Obama more?”

To this, Senator Clinton responded, “Well, that hurts my feelings.” She then paused, played to the pity of her audience by dropping her head and said, “But I’ll try to go on.”

In prophetic acquiescence, she said, “He’s very likable. I agree with that. I don’t think I’m that bad.”

Senator Obama than paid her the unforgettable back-handed compliment of the entire campaign, “You’re likable enough, Hillary.”

During that debate in 2008 between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, Clinton was the expert. And, eight years later when she ran again and debated Donald Trump, she was the expert again. But both times she lost the election. Just because experts have talent, education, and experience, it does not mean people will like them. In fact, the more remarkable an expert becomes, the higher the probability that likability is an issue.

Of course, there are many times when expertise is more important than temperament, but temperament matters, and it matters a lot more than some experts believe. Likable people more easily gain trust and influence. If your audience likes you they will overlook your flaws and the flaws of your product or service. They will forgive and forget old issues. They will award you with more business and will pay you more money. If something goes wrong, and it eventually will, people who like you will give you the benefit of the doubt and minimize the error. Being likable has many advantages.

Most experts understand intrinsically that they should try to be likable. Yet, many do very little to address deficiencies in this area. Let’s face it, for some experts being likable is difficult, so much so that some experts became experts intentionally so they can justify their unlikableness. For them it is easier to become an expert in their field of study than to develop a delightful personality. Some experts would never allow themselves to retain a knowledge gap in their field of expertise yet they will spend their entire careers with likability gaps in their personality.

Your competition is working hard to be likable even if you are not. Non-experts have known for a long time that the way to get ahead of an expert is by being more likable than they are. For some experts, likeability is their Achilles’ heel. Most non-exerts know that if you cannot out smart an expert, you still have a good chance of beating them by being more amiable, more pleasant, more appealing, and more good-natured.

As hard as it may seem for some experts, they can learn to be likable. And, we are not talking about just being tolerable. Many experts are tolerable, but few are truly charming. Likable experts acknowledge other people. They are kind, pleasant, and friendly. Showing genuine interest in an audience and listening to them when they speak will take experts a long way. But, being likable also means experts are sympathetic and patient. It means they demonstrate that they know people are more important than expertise. Being likable means you remain happy even when it is hard to be happy. It means you are not disagreeable even when you disagree. It means you don’t easily become irritable or angry. The likable are not disagreeable, even when they disagree. Great experts take the time to discover things about their audience that are sincerely interesting and laudable. Likable experts do thoughtful and kind things for their audience or, better yet, for their audiences’ colleagues. One of the most likable things any person can do is help another person’s child. Find ways to help people and lift them. If you are an expert and you are likable, truly likable, then you cannot be stopped. Likability and industry leading expertise are a rare combination.

Experts should never be satisfied by being “likeable enough!” If someone says you are likable enough, then be assured, you are not likable enough. If Senator Clinton did not prove that likability is essential in 2008, then she certainly did in 2016.

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Who’s the Expert Now?

What all experts can learn from the children of US Presidents.

After Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, Barron and Melania remained in New York City until Barron finished his academic year and moved into the White House in June 2017. On the day of the move, Barron wore a shirt which caught the attention of many news makers and comedians. In large blue letters, the J. Crew t-shirt boldly said, “The Expert.” Most media sources ignored the 11-year-old’s attire, but some could not resist the opportunity to poke fun at the President and his family. Regardless of your political persuasion or your feelings about Donald Trump or his family, there is something instructive in Barron’s t-shirt from that day.

In 2009, when Barrack Obama took office as the President of the United States, his daughter Malia was 10 years old. When she graduated from high school, her father was still the President. The Obama’s second daughter, Sasha, was seven when the family entered the White House. When President Obama left office, eight years later, Sasha had spent more than half her life living in the White House.

For the rest of their lives, Malia and Sasha Obama will be experts. Few people know as much as they do about being an adolescent in the White House. As such, for decades, they will be sought for their point of view and commentary. Yet, they almost certainly did not ask for this expertise, nor could they have attained it on their own. Rather, their expertise was bestowed upon them through life circumstances, through fate.

Anne Frank became an expert of the Holocaust through fate. Elizabeth Smart is an expert in child abduction and slavery through fate. Roy Sullivan, who survived seven different lightning strikes in his life, was an expert on being struck by lightning, through fate. These people, and thousands of others, are experts as a result of chance events. They attained their expertise because of circumstances beyond their control. No amount of study or practice could replicate the things they learned through experience.

Herein is an important lesson for highly effective experts. They understand, acknowledge, and embrace the path that brought them to their expert status. Even experts who have dedicated decades studying a subject or practicing a skill, are most influential when they recognize and embrace the otherwise random circumstance that also influenced their destiny. The best experts embrace the path that brought them to their expertise, the symmetry of the universe, or the finger of the divine.

Contrary to what some experts believe, your lucky breaks can be just as influential at persuading people, and sometimes more so, than all your study and hard work combined. Anyone can study the effects of being struck by lightning, but Roy Sullivan lived it. Anyone can work diligently to eliminate child abduction, but Elizabeth Smart lived it. Anyone can dream about childhood life in the White House, but Sasha and Malia Obama experienced it, and Barron Trump is now experiencing it as well. Events outside their control have differentiated them. Similarly, events outside your control have differentiated you.