Connect then Lead

Posted by on Apr 4, 2019 in Leadership | Comments Off on Connect then Lead

The Science behind Leadership

Consider this: before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.  Psychologists agree that warmth and strength are the two primary dimensions of social judgment. These two traits are the first things we evaluate when we judge others, especially our leaders. The characteristics behind warmth are empathy and compassion, and for strength are competence and confidence. These traits are so important that they account for more than 90% of the variance of both the positive and negative impressions we form of other people.

We form these impressions instantaneously through our non-verbal communication.  UCLA did a study measuring the impact of communication on influence and found that 93% of the impact is non-verbal: 38% tone and 55% behavior. Only 7% are the words we say; it’s really how you say it that makes a difference. So, if you want to be perceived as an effective leader you need to demonstrate warmth and strength simultaneously through your non-verbal communication.

Leading with Warmth and Strength                         

The research also shows that most of us tend to lead with our strength and competence first, which doesn’t always give the impression of trustworthiness. Behavioral scientists tell us that trustworthiness is what people are looking for in their leaders. UC Berkeley professor Dr. Dacher Keltner, in his book “The Power Paradox,” shows that for leaders to stay in power they must create trusting relationships and empower others. Power is not grabbed but is given by people who are willing to be influenced by you.

For some of us, integrating both warmth and strength simultaneously can be difficult because it requires you to manage your emotional state and to be intentional about the outcomes of your communication before you interact with others. And let’s face it—some people and situations can push our buttons.

Most of leadership coaching is about supporting leaders to be masterful at influencing. The higher up the executive ladder you climb, the more important it is to be aware of and manage the emotional triggers and behaviors that keep you from being effective. Your emotional intelligence will predict how easy or hard that is.

There are many intelligent leaders who are subject matter experts in their field who want to be right or think they know the all of the answers. Unfortunately, shoving your “rightness” down someone’s throat is not always effective and it can make people want to retaliate. I recently completed a leadership assessment with a CEO who mistakenly lead with too much strength and did not create enough trust with the staff. He was new to the organization and was too authoritative right out of the gate. People felt disempowered,  which resulted in an unhealthy culture of apathy and retaliation toward the CEO. Consistent with the research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (who studied 50,000 leaders), the chances that a manager who is strongly disliked will be considered a good leader is 1 in 2000.

Leading with too much warmth has its pitfalls too. Either way, you won’t generate trust, but for different reasons. You need to demonstrate confidence and competence for people to follow you. If you can’t set expectations, give corrective feedback, are afraid of conflict or overly invested in being liked, others will feel disempowered because you are not creating an environment conducive to success.

Connect, Then Lead

Masterful influencing is a requirement for effective leadership. Here are five tips to take your influencing to the next level:

  1. Know your leadership personality and manage your emotional state to project warmth and strength. You can’t fake empathy or confidence. Your emotions will drive the right behaviors.
  2. Be intentional about the impact of your communication; focus your non-verbal communication. to be congruent with your intentions and integrate warmth and strength to match the situation.
  3. Learn self-awareness and how to read the emotional cues of others in the moment and respond appropriately.
  4. Mirror the non-verbal and verbal communication of others to establish rapport before you try to influence them.
  5. Most importantly, your communication must maintain the dignity of others and empower others to succeed or you might find yourself vulnerable to harsh reprisal or even mutiny.

My presentation “Connect, then Lead” speaks to the first principles of masterful influencing. Since 2015 I have been invited three times to give this presentation at the HR West conference, including just last month. I have also presented this to many of my client leadership teams and at other conferences.

On April 20th, I will be at the Berkeley City Club in Berkeley CA to give a three-hour workshop of “Connect, then Lead” for the International Coach Federation (ICF) Bay Area Chapter.  If you are a coach or a business professional looking to improve your personal leadership you may find this workshop useful. Coaches will receive 3 CCEUs for attending. The link to register for the workshop is: I hope you will join us for a morning of interactive learning on April 20th in Berkeley