The “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around topics relevant to our success and professional growth. Use them in good health and great performance!
Let’s face it, the new leadership role is a great testament to your prior success and the faith that your firm’s senior leaders place in your abilities to help build the future. You’ve gained their confidence and trust, but the hard work is still in front of you. You’ve got to earn the trust of your new team members.
The group of Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger writing in the July/August 2013 Influence themed issue of Harvard Business Review with their article, “Connect, Then Lead,” suggest that you choose your approach to engaging your new team members very carefully to optimize your start-up effectiveness. In particular, they suggest that you should fight your natural instinct to initially project your strength and competence and instead, focus on displaying warmth to support building trust.
For some of this, warmth approach is no easy task!
Focus on the Goal:
Remind yourself as you plan your start-up with your new team, that to be effective, you’ve got to be trusted. Trust breeds openness, engagement, support, creativity, communion and a host of other good environmental factors on a team and between a leader and a new team. The challenge for the new leader is how to earn trust as quickly as possible.
The authors in the HBR article cite evidence from behavioral scientists who suggest that when we judge others (in this case, the new boss), we look first at two characteristics: “how lovable they are” and “how fearsome they are.” While I doubt you think in terms of “lovable” or “fearsome” you are internally processing on your reaction to their verbal presentation and non-verbal cues and your perspective on their warmth impacts your perception of their trustworthiness. The over-emphasis on competence factors and an approach that suggests, “I’m the new sheriff in town,” may raise the defenses and keep people from engaging with the new boss in a way that they need to begin creating an effective working environment.
The judgment on lovable or fearsome becomes important as we process on two key questions: “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “Is he/she capable of acting on these intentions?” Any answer that breeds caution or tentativeness fights the early establishment of trust and delays the ability of the new leader to truly tap into the true perspectives and best creativity of her team members.
Adding a bit of data to the mix, the authors cite a study of 51,836 leaders where only 27 of them were rated in the bottom quartile in terms of likability and the top quartile in terms of overall leadership effectiveness. By my math, that’s a poor outcome for those of us who take pride in our competence and effectiveness and prefer a no-nonsense approach to getting started.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
As always, Mom was right. The behavioral science is just getting around to concluding what she was telling us years ago. You get more cooperation with honey than vinegar.
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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.