Female leaders often fight to prove their competence and strength in the workplace. As a result, they can come across as “tough” or “pushy,” which is a shame because some of these leaders’ greatest attributes end up overshadowed as a result.
But research suggests that a leader (female or male) doesn’t need to be tough to be effective. In fact, the combination of “warmth” plus “competence” seems to offer the winning formula for success, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review.
According to “Connect, Then Lead,” a growing number of research studies show that a leader’s warmth can be a “conduit of influence,” because it builds trust and leads to open communication. People listen to people they trust.
“Before what people think of your message, they decide what they think of you,” emphasizes the article.
Don’t misunderstand. A warm leader who is extremely likable but incompetent isn’t going to get too far. But one who demonstrates both likability and competence can be extremely effective.
The HBR article asserts that to lead effectively, one must first show warmth, or likability, while simultaneously demonstrating strength and competence.
So how do we do this? It doesn’t need to be forced. In fact, it can be achieved by thoughtfully reacting in your most natural way. Here are some examples:
1. Look people in the eye
3. Express understanding
4. Show empathy
5. Smile (and mean it!)
7. Use the right tone of voice – a lower, calm pitch
8. Use friendly body language like turning your body towards the person you’re speaking to; lean in; don’t cross your arms
Of course, likable, warm leaders do still need to make unpopular and difficult decisions. But by establishing the trust up front, when it’s time to get tough, it will seem more thoughtful and strategic; not cold and uncaring. This continues to build trust, even in challenging situations.
We have this discussion with quite a few of our clients. And to be sure, there’s a fine line between being warm and seeming like a pushover. Being strong and competent and seeming too rigid and tough. But with some careful consideration and awareness, many of our clients have learned to successfully balance both!
Have you learned to effectively combine warmth and competence? We’d love to hear your strategies!