While your answer may be yes, it’s likely that many of us more readily identify ourselves as naturally–made leaders. It’s true that many people have inherent “leadership” qualities, like vision, ambition, or charisma. While these characteristics may give some an initial boost, Behavioral Theories of Leadership propose that we can all learn to become leaders no matter our natural skill set.
Vanessa Van Edwards, Lead Investigator at Science of People and bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, asserts that people become great by leading with warmth (caring for others) and competence (performing well at your job). According to organizational behavior research, we all initially judge people based on these two traits. We question someone’s intentions by asking ourselves, “Can I trust you?” (warmth) and “Can I respect you?” (competence).
Most of us lean towards one end of the spectrum. Some of us are seen as sweet, compassionate, and relatable but not as remarkably smart or impressive. Others of us are perceived as important and dependable, but not immediately approachable or collaborative.
You may have guessed that great leaders know how to properly balance both traits. As we connect with our teams from our home offices or with our clients over Zoom, leading with both warmth and confidence is more important than ever. The way we present ourselves via email, on the phone, during a meeting, or through written feedback reveals our warmth-competence balance and can make or break a relationship over time.
So, how can we be aware of these factors and lead with warmth and competence? Here are a few tips to consider.
Prime the Pump
As a leader, it’s essential to focus on the positive and use our words to shape conversations. We can all relate to an introduction that starts with a “How are you?” and ends with a negative comment about morning traffic, the weather, or the stress of the workweek. Even if unintended, our words are powerful primers, influencing the outcome of our interactions.
It’s important to keep in mind that our connections with people begin even before we see or hear them. They truly start when the other person initially thinks of us.
So, before you hop on the phone for your next meeting, ask yourself, “How do I want this person to think, feel, and act before, during, and after interacting with me?” Strive to avoid the negative and focus on the positive. Rather than prompting the other person to think about stress, anxiety, or the busyness of the week, bring up topics that are unifying or encouraging, like what you’re looking forward to this weekend or how you’re enjoying that hobby of yours.
After considering your conversations, take inventory of your email correspondence. Are you writing in a way that reveals warmth and competence? Count the number of warm words and the number of competent words, like this:
- Hi friend!
- Let’s connect
- I’m open
- Happy to be here
- Let’s brainstorm
- Get ready
- We’ll power through
How’d you do? You’ll likely see a lot of words in one category or none in either. If you’re in the first camp, you’ll know where to start to better balance your warmth-competency ratio. If you’re in the second, it likely means you’ve gotten sterile in your communication. If that’s the case, it’s time to add some emotion back in!
Talk with Your Hands
Have you ever wanted to be a TED speaker? Well, whenever the opportunity comes your way, take note of this. The most popular TED speakers (rated by the number of views) use nearly double the number of hand gestures in the same amount of time as do their less frequently watched counterparts (465 gestures in 18 minutes compared to just 272 gestures in 18 minutes).
Our hands are our trust indicators, and our brains give 12.5 times more weight to our gestures than our words. This said, visible and expressive hand gestures go a long way in connecting with others, especially on video calls. Can your colleagues and clients see your hands when you’re speaking to them?
One of the easiest ways to incorporate hand movements is to demonstrate your concepts with your hands. For example, if you were to pitch a big idea that included three main points, you could illustrate the word “big” with both hands a foot apart and “three” by holding up three fingers. This not only confirms your message on multiple channels (verbal and physical) but also supports your confidence in the claim.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all relate to people based on our perceptions of their warmth and competence. Want to become an excellent leader? The great news is that you can, and it’s all about exercising both warmth and competence.
After all, “Leadership isn’t about impressing anyone. It’s about lifting others up with understanding and empathy. It’s about listening. It’s about saying “thank you.” It’s about being present with the people we influence.” (Lead with No Fear by Steve Gutzler)