Build Trust First, Then Lead

Is it really better to be feared than to be loved? Well, not necessarily. Although fear has long been used as a form of motivation, leaders who elicit fear are at risk of undermining creativity and problem solving while stifling a culture of “speak-up.” According to research documented by the Harvard Business Review, trust in leadership has greater long term benefits as employees are much more likely to embrace a firm’s values, culture and the company’s mission.

People respond more positively to leaders who are likable and lead with warmth than those who are viewed as competent which is often associated with fear. People respond to warmth much faster than competence and warmth is considered to be a conduit of influence. Warmth facilitates trust and communications and increases information sharing, openness and cooperation - all of which are attributes of a healthy culture.

As a leader you should note that before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you. If they don’t trust you as a leader, they will not follow you with any real authenticity – meaning you will fail to capture the hearts of your employees. Your ability to influence as a leader and get people to fully embrace your vision and your message will depend upon your ability to establish trust within the organization.

So why are leaders more concerned with competence rather than connecting with their employees?

Well let’s examine this for a moment. With the pressures that exist in today’s organizations, leaders are given a short time horizons to prove their value. We associate leadership with strength and then set an expectation that encourages the optics. Leading with warmth however, is about vulnerability. How confident and self-assured a leader is will determine their threshold for vulnerability. Additionally, in order to connect with people, you must also be connected with yourself. Leaders who lack self-awareness will be hard pressed to connect with those whom they lead.

It is more difficult to hate people up close, so lean in.

So often, leaders forget basic tenets of building relationships because they don’t think of the people who they lead, as individuals. But organizations are made up of people and everyone has basic human wants and needs. Everyone wants respect and a sense of belonging. They also want recognition; not only for the work they are doing, but to be recognized as a person. Reaching out to individuals and getting to know people by name goes along way at building loyalty and trust. Connect first, then when you lead, people will follow.

How to lead with warmth

It isn’t easy to lead with warmth particularly in a cutthroat environment. But non-verbal cues and body language speak volumes about what kind of leader you are. Tone and pitch of voice gives way to your enthusiasm and your receptivity to ideas. Your physical posture in front of others also tells a story: head down, arms crossed and the pivot of your body away from those you are speaking to are all signs of someone who is closed off.

Your words matter. Telling stories is a great way to connect but telling a story that ends with how great you are probably won’t connect you to your audience. Humility tends to be more effective while compassion and empathy go a long way, especially when boosting morale under grueling conditions.

Leading with warmth is more challenging for some than for others. If you are a leader struggling to lead with warmth make a human connection than I can offer you one simple tip - SMILE.