Is It Better to Lead With Warmth Or Strength?

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Which quality is better in a leader—being lovable or being strong?

That’s one of the questions posed in the article “Connect, Then Lead,” published in the Harvard Business Review. Authors Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger discuss behavioral research that suggests that people may comply with the demands of a leader who is not warm, but privately are less likely to feel motivated to perform well for such a person than for a leader who, for instance, validates feelings, asks about others, and uses more open gestures. “Most leaders today tend to emphasize their strength, competence, and credentials in the workplace, but that is exactly the wrong approach,” write the authors. “Leaders who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear, and along with it a host of dysfunctional behaviors.”

Many people do not come across as approachable and open at work, even if, inside, they are caring and engaged human beings.

Some of the suggestions I offer to those clients who want to make sure they are projecting warmth include the following:

  1. Ask warm questions: Make the effort to ask genuine questions about others at work. Ask questions that help you keep up with the lives of colleagues, not only questions driven by business.
  2. Practice careful listening skills: Listen to what is being said and convey support and encouragement, rather than receiving information passively, or criticizing. Offer suggestions if it seems appropriate.
  3. Be mindful of body language: I regularly catch myself crossing my arms across my chest in a posture that appears closed off. Simply learning to keep arms at sides is one way to convey openness.
  4. Watch your email etiquette: In email correspondence, take a moment to say hello, ask a warm question, or offer a note of appreciation. It’s not possible for every email, but make it a habit as often as you can.

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