You want to get better at your job, advance your career, and have more impact. I know this because you're reading now and not playing Pokemon (not that there's anything wrong with Pokemon).

Think about your skills and knowledge gaps and ask yourself where you'd like to improve. Now ask your business partners, co-workers, and even your spouse what they think.

Will their perceptions of you match your own? What does this feedback reveal about your future prospects and who should you listen to?

There is strong evidence that most of us would be far more successful, impactful, and happy if we listened more to other people. But to fully grasp the importance of listening to others, we need to first understand two broad dimensions of leadership.

When humans encounter new people--especially those they will be led by or collaborate with--we assess them for two different, but equally important, traits: warmth and competence.

In other words, we are asking:

  1. Does this person care about us?
  2. Are they able to deliver?

These questions are the foundation of trust.

While both questions are important, science shows that the first question carries far more weight: "The centrality of warmth and competence is well documented in the area of interpersonal perception, going back over half a century." -- Cuddy, Fiske, and Glick in Warmth and Competence as Universal Dimensions of Social Perception

The reason for this is relatively simple. If someone cares about us, but is incompetent, they are relatively safe and perhaps unhelpful. But if someone does not care about us and they are competent, they become a potential danger.

To be an effective leader and collaborator, you need people to believe that you are both caring and competent. This produces trust, which makes teams run smoothly.

Now back to your career.

Organizational psychologists Andrea Abele, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, and Bogdan Wojciszke, of the University of Gdansk, have documented the tendency for humans to value warmth in others but value competence in ourselves, across a variety of settings.

In one experiment, Abele and Wojciszke presented people with a list of career-enhancing courses, by asking them to choose courses for themselves and suggest courses for their co-workers.

The study found that people would overwhelmingly choose competence-related training programs focusing on themselves, but warmth-related social skills trainings for their co-workers.

In other words, we tend to believe that technical skills are what our organization will value most, but we actually need to be warmer and more caring.

This maps to my own experience coaching leaders--especially those in technical or engineering organizations. My clients come to me believing that their skills make them a good leader.

What they fail to realize is that, as their organizations get more complex and as their own domains of authority increase (the very definition of career advancement in most organizations), they are no longer just building technical systems.

They are building teams.

To be effective as you grow your career, you need to become an expert in engineering trust, and this means consciously developing warmth, care, and diplomacy -- not more technical prowess.

It's what great leaders have always known: how people feel in your presence is more important than what you know or what you can do. In the words of Maya Angelou: "People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."


Further Reading: "Connect, Then Lead" by Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger From the July/August 2013 Issue of Harvard Business Review