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Leadership Challenge: How Lovable Are You?

If you want to be an exceptional leader, warmth and approachability matter far more than competence. Here's why.
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Most leaders emphasize strength, competence, and credentials at work, but, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, that's exactly what you don't want to do.

Similar to Inc.'s special report on the 7 Traits of True Leaders, in which Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan argues that the most effective leaders today are those who embrace traits once considered feminine like inclusiveness and vulnerability, the Harvard Business Review says that the most powerful way to influence--and lead--is to be lovable.

The article authors, Amy J.C. Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor, and Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger, who also wrote Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential, say employees react best to leaders who exude warmth, and authentically invest time and effort to connect with them.

Here's some more highlights on how they came to these conclusions, and recommendations for how you too can become a more lovable leader.

Even If You're Extremely Competent, You Still Need to Be Warm

Cuddy and her colleagues Susan Fiske of Princeton, and Peter Glick, of Lawrence University, found that a high level of competence combined with a lack of warmth actually elicits envy in others. You have to have a high level of competence as well as a high level of warmth if you want to evoke admiration. If you lack competence all together, a lack of warmth will bring out contempt, while a high level of warmth will get you pity.

If You're Disliked, You Won't Get Anywhere

In their report, the authors reference a study conducted by leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, which found that 27 of 51,836 leaders were "rated in the bottom quartile in terms of likability and in the top quartile in terms of overall leadership effectiveness." So the chance that a manager is both disliked and considered a good leader is about one in 2,000.

You Can Become More Lovable. Here's How

1. Be a straight shooter.
The Harvard Business Review article says: "Aim for a tone that suggests that you're leveling with people--that you're sharing the straight scoop, with no pretense or emotional adornment. In doing so, you signal that you trust those you're talking with to handle things the right way."

2. Tell a personal story once in a while.
Choose "one that feels private but not inappropriate--in a confiding tone of voice to demonstrate that you're being forthcoming and open," the authors say.

3. Acknowledge employee fears and concerns.
"People will respect you for addressing the elephant in the room, and will be more open to hearing what you have to say," recommend the authors.

4. Smile--and mean it.
Similar to yawning, a genuine smile can be contagious. It's also self-reinforcing. "Feeling happy makes us smile, and smiling makes us happy," the authors write. Another effective non-verbal signal? A nod.

5. Stand tall.
Your power pose can be open, expansive, and space-occupying, say the authors. "Imagine Wonder Woman and Superman standing tall with their hands on their hips and feet spread apart," they add.

IMAGE: Flickr/Rusty Russ
Last updated: Jul 10, 2013

JANA KASPERKEVIC | Staff Writer

Jana Kasperkevic is a graduate of Baruch College, City University of New York, where she earned a bachelors degree in Journalism and Political Science. She covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurship for Inc. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, InvestmentNews, Business Insider, and Houston Chronicle, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.




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