In the book, Quick Confidence: Be Authentic, Boost Connections and Make Bold Bets on Yourself author Selena Rezvani references a study by well-known researcher Amy Cuddy at Harvard University which found that:

Employees prefer leaders to show warmth first and demonstrate competence second.

Surprisingly, for many leaders this seems counterintuitive. Leaders often believe that they need to first prove their ability, intelligence, and skill.

Many of my clients have said to me that they need to know as much if not more than their team in order to successfully lead. You can imagine how they feel when they start a new role leading a team whose day-to-day work, they know very little about. We often talk about how being a leader is about leadership skills not technical skills.

But what if you lead with warmth? Why is that so powerful?

Leading with warmth is about connecting with others.

It demonstrates that you recognize the person or people you are interacting with as fellow human beings, that you value them and want to know more about them.

When you sincerely connect with others first, they are more open to hear what you have to say and will recognize your competence.

If you put the word “Warmth” into a thesaurus, words similar in meaning include cordiality, friendliness, kindness, sincerity, and amiability.

Stop for a second and think about the last time you were warmly greeted by someone at the beginning of an interaction. How did you feel? How did the interaction go? Was the result a positive one?

I can imagine that some of you are thinking of situations where you experienced a false attempt at warmth. Some salespeople might come to mind. A colleague that wants something from you or a child or significant other that wants to win you over to their way of thinking.

In fact, some leaders will avoid showing warmth simply because of their own bad experiences from the past.

Generally, the ability to convey warmth to others falls into three categories:

  1. Those who are naturally good at it.
  2. Those for whom it doesn’t come naturally.
  3. Those who don’t think it is important.

What can you do to remind yourself to lead with warmth?

Leading with warmth is about seeing the person as a fellow human being who has hopes, dreams, and struggles. Simple things like smiling, looking into someone’s eyes, acknowledging something they’ve said and responding with caring, are all ways to demonstrate warmth.

Displaying warmth requires deeply listening, noticing the other person, and acknowledging them. Your tone of voice and your body language can also display warmth.

You can also do this virtually.

I marvel at the ability of some customer service reps on the phone who create a sense of connection by asking you simple questions while you wait for the system to find your account. I once had a rep tell me about a wonderful place where he was living and why he loved it so much. This was all happening in between resolving my issue as we waited for the operating system to update. He pulled up a map of where he was and shared it with me so that I could get a sense of the geography.

What was so powerful was how he shared a bit of himself with me and made a human connection.

Do an experiment:

  1. Observe others in conversation and notice if and how they display Warmth.
  2. Observe yourself in interactions and notice whether you lead with Warmth and how you do it.
  3. Practice showing Warmth in a variety of situations and notice what kind of results you get. One easy way to do this is to make a conscious effort to connect with anyone providing service to you such as the cashier at a store or the gas station attendant.

There is both a skill and an art to leading others.

When you start with warmth, people are more likely to acknowledge your competence as they get to know you.

Super-Leaders use both Head (Competence) and Heart (Warmth) to lead. So, start with Heart (Warmth) and see what happens.

What do you think?Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Welcome to the Listening to the Leader in You Blog

Super-leaders arm themselves with insight. This blog is where you’ll find concepts, ideas, resources and more for honing your full set of leadership capabilities. 
Lynn Schaber, MCC
For the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to partner with individuals intent on cracking the code to leadership beyond the ordinary.