Valerie Jarrett: 3 reasons why you shouldn't worry about being liked at work

Women oftentimes spend too much time focusing on likability instead of advocating for themselves, the former senior advisor to then-President Obama told Mika Brzezinski.
Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama, chats with Mika Brzezinski for "Morning Joe" on April 24, 2017.
Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama, chats with Mika Brzezinski for "Morning Joe" on April 24, 2017.Miller Hawkins

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By Halley Bondy

Valerie Jarrett has had the longest tenure than any other senior White House advisor in history. But to get there, she had to embark on a journey of self-discovery and come to terms with her relationship with “likability.”

Jarrett, recently spoke to “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski about her path, noting it took her years to discover her own value due in part to the “likability traps” that women fall into.

““There’s two traps. One, we want to be liked. And two, we don’t want to look pushy or like we’re grabbing for something we don’t deserve,” said Jarrett, who served under President Barack Obama. “We don’t know how to advocate for ourselves.”

It’s a theme she also discusses in her book, “Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward.” In it, Jarrett detailed working hard and simply hoping people would notice. It was only later when she learned to speak up for herself.

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Here’s what Jarrett has learned about likability:

1. Being “liked” won’t get you a promotion.

Jarrett argued that likability does not translate to advancement in the workplace. She learned from experience working in Chicago politics and business.

“Early in my career, when I thought I was doing really good work, in my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have thought of asking for a promotion for fear that I would have looked pushy,” said Jarrett. “...You’ve got to learn your value for yourselves first, but you also have to speak up.”

2. Likability does not equal respect.

Worrying about likability can take up a lot of time, and in the meantime, you’re not working on gaining respect.

“It’s a distraction, when what you really could be doing is commanding respect with your presence,” said Brzezinski.

Jarrett agreed: “[Likability] is trying to be popular, but what you really want is to be respected.”

3. Likability does not lead to personal growth.

If you focus on likability, you won’t gain the tools you need to get ahead, said Jarrett.

“You have to do your job, and you have to do it really well,” said Jarrett. “You have to always ask for more to do. Never be satisfied. Always be trying to get out of your comfort zone. You then have to be willing to say…’I deserve more, and I need to be compensated and rewarded for my effort,’ and if they say no, then you say ‘tell me what I can do to improve.’ You have to be willing to take some criticism, and you have to be able to go back in six months and ask again.”