leadership imageRun a simple Google search on the traits of a successful leader and a plethora of resources quickly fills the page—the ‘Top 10 Qualities That Make a Great Leader,’ the five essential traits that a smart leader embraces, the titles that every savvy leader must read—there is no shortage of advice. But as a recent Harvard Business Review article reveals, there is one dynamic that demands mastery if you are to have any sustained success as a leader: the ability to communicate a compelling combination of strength and warmth.

These qualities, assert authors Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger, are critically important because they help others answer two basic questions: “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “Is he or she capable of acting on those intentions?” Indeed, these questions are so powerful, the authors note, that they account “for more than 90% of the variance in our positive or negative impressions we form of the people around us.” So what can you do to ensure that you master this critical mix?

Start with warmth

Not surprisingly many people, particularly those in leadership positions, are keen to underscore their strengths—they want people to see that they’re strong, competent, ‘can do’ individuals who can handle any challenge that comes along. And although that’s certainly important, it’s not the card you should lead with, these experts say. Instead, warmth should be the first trait you master.

“Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas,” the authors note. “Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted with them.” And as we heard in last week’s post, trust is a critical component of any organization’s DNA.

Combine warmth with strength

Once you’ve established a connection with those around you, it’s important to let them know that you’re also competent and ready to lead. The authors suggest that leaders adopt the attitude of a ‘happy warrior’, an individual who’s relaxed, confident and calm in the face of adversity, someone who faces trouble “without being troubled.” “Their behavior is not relaxed, but they are relaxed emotionally,” the authors explain. “Happy warriors reassure us that whatever challenges we may face, things will work out in the end.”

Projecting warmth

Wondering how best to project warmth to others? Cuddy, Kohut and Neffinger advise:

  • Find the right level: Pitch your voice at a warm level and volume, as though you were speaking to a good friend. Overdo it on the energy and enthusiasm meter and you run the risk of coming off as a fake.
  • Validate feelings: Don’t be afraid to let people know how you feel—acknowledge the elephant in the room.
  • Smile—and mean it: Smile naturally, and your feelings will be contagious.

Projecting strength

The key here is managing your demeanor effectively—project an attitude of confidence and capability without being overbearing.

  • Feel in command: Connect with yourself—deny those voices of self-doubt that threaten to creep in from time to time.
  • Stand up straight: Practice good posture. You don’t need to strike the pose of a drill sergeant, but you should occupy your space calmly and confidently.
  • Get ahold of yourself: Maintain an awareness of your movements—don’t flail or fidget. “Stillness demonstrates calm,” the authors note. “Combine that with good posture, and you’ll achieve what’s known as poise, which telegraphs equilibrium and stability, important aspects of credible leadership presence.”

In today’s demanding corporate environment, a leader’s ability to engender feelings of trust and competency among colleagues is critical. Fortunately, with a bit of self-awareness and the desire to connect, you can become a leader that people will want to follow.

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