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How likable are you as a leader?

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What role does being likable play in a leader's influence over others to shift their thinking and behavior? By expressing personal warmth to your team members, can you inspire others to embrace your vision and shift their attitude and behavior willingly? According to current sociological and psychological research, being seen as genuinely friendly can make a huge difference in your effectiveness as a leader.

A vice president of a Fortune 500 company I am currently coaching demonstrates the powerful influence a likable leader can have on an organization's culture. Sharon was recruited two years ago to her current company to oversee a phone-sales team of 150 people.

At that time, the department was underperforming. After assessing the situation, she determined that individuals met or exceeded their goals for the first several years and then tended to coast in their role. However, mediocre performance and a sense of complacency was tolerated by the company's culture.

Although this leader had the authority to replace employees, she opted instead to begin a change management campaign to sway the thinking and performance expectations of her leadership team. As a part of this process she met with each of her direct reports and members of their teams to learn more about them as individuals, and to understand their strengths and challenges in their roles. She was clear about her expectations and those individuals who were either unwilling or incapable of engaging in the required behavior were let go. Despite the higher performance demands and layoffs, her team described her as warm, caring and tough.

It is this ability to be both simultaneously caring and tough that appears to separate a star performer from an average leader in her ability to influence others to shift their thinking and behavior. A recent Harvard Business Review article posed the question, “Is it better to be loved or feared?” It explored the behavioral science research that suggests that when we judge others, especially our leaders, we look at two primary characteristics: their warmth and their strength. The reason these traits are so important is because it answers two critical questions that we want to know about our leaders: “What are their intentions towards me?” and “How capable are they of acting on those intentions?”

This article states that many leaders typically emphasize their strength or competence first, which can alienate colleagues and direct reports. In fact a growing body of research suggest that the way to influence and to lead is to begin with warmth. The likability factor becomes key when leading a team. Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.

Demonstrating warmth
To enhance your ability to gain the engagement and support from your team, it can be helpful to understand what impacts the way others perceive your levels of warmth.

Whether you ask someone to shift their job responsibilities, report to a new manager, or begin to hold them more accountable for achieving their goals, most people are uncomfortable with any deviation made to their work environment. While the reasons for resistance to change are varied, there are three basic human needs that impact an individuals' reaction to change: the need for control; the need for inclusion and the need for openness.

Whenever possible you need to provide your employees an opportunity to be a part of the decision-making process that will impact them. If that is unrealistic, then minimally you want to communicate openly and often to them about the specifics of the change and how it will impact them. The more time you take to know them as individuals the more you can tailor your conversations to address their specific concerns. If your behavior as a leader reflects an understanding of these needs, you increase the likelihood that they will perceive you as demonstrating warmth.

Your body language is as critical to your being perceived as genuinely warm as the content of your verbal interactions. It is important that you be aware of your posture and eye contact. You want to project an open feeling by having a casual stance and 70% direct eye contact with your audience. As with any new behavior you may need to practice being aware of your physical leadership presence so that you can begin to feel more comfortable.

Finally, don't misinterpret being “warm” as being a weak or being “tough” as being indifferent or dismissive of people's feelings. The key to enhancing your influence is managing the expectations of your employees by providing them predictability, consistency and accountability. Let them know what to expect; be consistent in those expectations and hold them accountable for their actions.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]



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