To Be Loved or Feared?

Leaders want to influence the behaviors of followers. But what is the most effective way to do this? By asserting strength and competence, or by focusing on warmth and trustworthiness?

Style matters, claim several Harvard Business Review authors, Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger, in a recent article. They write: “A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence – and to lead – is to begin with warmth.” They underline this, noting: “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.”

They observe that there are many characteristics in people, but the two most influential are warmth and strength: “insights from the field of psychology show 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.”

“Leaders who project strength,” they continue, “before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear, and along with it a host of dysfunctional behaviors.” Interestingly, they also say that leaders naturally want to prove their competence and that they are “up to the job.” As a result, many leaders focus their self-improvement efforts on competency training. . . . even though the same people judge others first on the basis of trustworthiness, not competence.

The authors conclude: “By putting competence first undermines leadership: Without a foundation of trust, people in the organization may comply outwardly with a leader’s wishes, but they’re much less likely to conform privately – to adopt the values, culture, and mission of the organization in a sincere, lasting way.”

But it can’t be all warm and fuzzy. Channeling Niccolo Machiavelli, the authors opt for a combination of warmth and strength. And that’s the trick of a great leader!

Graphic Credit: Wikipedia

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Pat Fiorenza

Thanks for sharing this, John. I read the article as well and thought it was fantastic – super interesting to read.

John L. Waid

When I was in the Air Force, we had a saying: “To err is human; to forgive is not Strategic Air Command policy.” The culture of fear is pervasive in government. If one makes a mistake or not even a mistake but a decision that someone above him in the food chain does not like, the directive to “do something” comes down. the unfortunate employee’s head rolls, and everyone’s happy. Well, not everyone, but at least everyone who counts in the view of the higher-ups. That has to be changed before any progress can be made and so-called Millenials will want to work for the government.