Connect, Then Lead: How to be a Happy Warrior

As a leader, which is better? Being lovable or being strong? Machiavelli posed a similar question and answered that one should be both, but because it’s hard to unite these two attributes in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”

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A growing body of research led by Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy suggests that this may be the wrong approach.

Leaders are judged by immediately by two characteristics: how loveable they are (their warmth, communion, or trustworthiness) and how fearsome they are (their strength, agency, or competence).

A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence –and to lead- is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. A few small nonverbal signs will help you immediately connect with those around you.

Cuddy argues that “people judged to be competent but lacking in warmth often elicit envy in others, an emotion involving both respect and resentment that cuts both ways.” In fact, social psychology shows that these two dimensions account for more than 90% of the variance in our positive or negative impressions we form of the people around us.

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Leaders who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear, and along a host of dysfunctional behaviors. This makes it less likely for followers to conform and adopt the values, culture and mission of the organization in a sincere, lasting way. Research from Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman further drives it home: “Leaders who are rated low on likability have about a one in 2,000 chance of being regarded as effective.”

The best way to gain influence is to combine warmth and strength. Cuddy calls these people “happy warriors.” “Happy warriors reassure us that whatever challenges we face, things will work out in the end. Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, played the happy warrior by pairing her assertiveness and authority with a big smile and a quick wit that made it clear she did not let the rough-and-tumble politics get her down.

3 Ways to Project Warmth

1.       Find the right level.

Most people think projecting warmth is about amping up the enthusiasm of their voice and increasing their volume and dynamic range to convey delight. Thought this could be appropriate in some settings, some people think you may be faking it.

Instead, a better way to create vocal warmth is to speak with lower pitch and volume, as you would if you were comforting a friend. Aim for a tone that suggests that you’re leveling with people – that you’re sharing the straight scoop, with no pretense or emotional adornment.

Share a personal story that may feel private but not inappropriate in a confiding tone of voice . This works especially if you want to create new bonds with employees meeting first time. Offer something personal right off the bat, such as recalling how you felt at a similar point in your career.

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2.       Validate Feelings

Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.

Imagine that your organization is going through a wholesale reorganization and there is a great sense of anxiety and fear for job security. By acknowledging people’s fears and concerns when you speak to them will you will gain influence. Look them in the eye and say, “I know everybody’s feeling a lot of uncertainty right now, and it’s unsettling.” Cuddy says, “people will respect you for addressing the elephant in the room, and will be more open to hearing what you have to say.”

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3.       Smile – and mean it.

Smile is contagious. The warmth you share is self-reinforcing. The facial feedback you share will spread like wildfire. Cuddy says that warmth is not easy to fake, of course, and a polite smile fools no one. To project warmth, you have to genuinely feel it. So how do you produce a natural smile? Cuddy suggests to “find some reason to feel happy wherever you may be, even if you have to resort to laughing at your predicament.”

One caveat the researchers suggest is to avoid smiling with your eyebrows raised at anyone over the age of five. They say that this may suggest that you are overly eager to please and want to be liked. It also signals anxiety, which, like warmth, is contagious.

Question: How do you connect and express warmth as a leader?