What are the Most Important Leadership Characteristics?


 
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What are the Most Important Leadership Characteristics?
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands

Recently, Cuddy, Kohut and Neffinger argue that two particular traits or characteristics - Warmth and Strength - are critical in leadership performance. These 2 traits are most influential when we're judging others, they underlie our emotional and behavioral feelings towards others. A question then is which of these characteristics is better and needs to come first.

1. Strength first: If one emphasizes strength first, leadership will be undermined because of a lack of trust. Without the foundation of trust it is difficult for employees to accept the wants and needs of the leader, and as a result they will act independently and completely in their own interest.
2. Starting with warmth is said to result in considerably higher economic benefits. An increasing amount of studies finds that starting with warmth helps connecting you with people around you and shows that when you listen to them that creates the sense of trust. Trust leads to more openness, cooperation and to an increase in sharing knowledge. But the main advantage is that trust gives the opportunity to influence people’s perceptions and opinions, it enables getting your message fully accepted.

Although warmth needs to come before strength, it is best to combine the 2 characteristics because they can reinforce each other: warmth creates personal strength which helps to be more open and less intimidated, while strength can create the projection of authenticity and warmth.

Many ways of projecting warmth as a leader exist, but 3 of them are most important and are discussed in the article:
1. Finding the right level: pitch and volume needs to be low, and create a tone that shows you are validating with people. In this way a signal of trust is given to your employees.
2. Validate feelings: Before making decisions about the message you send, people always first determine their opinion about you as a person. As a result that showing your employees that you feel the same way as they do will create a common sense, the ultimate way for getting people listen to you. First agree with others, they will listen and agree with you afterwards.
3. Smile sincerely: A natural and real smile results in warmth that reinforces itself. One needs to watch out that a fake smile fools no one anymore. The best way to create a real smile is to search for reasons to be happy even if you are in difficult situations.

The projection of strength can be generated by your posture, your actual performance and also by your reputation. The three best practices for projecting strength for leaders are:
1. Feeling confident: It is important to truly feel in command and confident because self-doubt does absolutely not help projecting confidence, passion and enthusiasm. Using power poses can be useful, although these poses will certainly not increase power over others. The challenge is to truly feel confident which can be achieved by connecting with yourself, which in turn facilitates connecting with others.
2. Standing up straight: If you want to be taken seriously and increase dominance it is impossible to overestimate the importance of posture. The audience reaction to you will certainly be influenced by the maximization of the physical space of your body.
3. Have yourself in control: A combination of good posture, moving in the right directions and stillness is best. Stillness means that it is better to not twitch or fidge or make any other visual statics because it makes you look like you are out of control. Stillness represents calmness and in combination with a good position and with moving in the right ways you’ll create a credible leadership presence.

In conclusion, as a leader it is best to combine the traits warmth and strength because they can reinforce each other: warmth creates personal strength which helps to be more open and less intimidated, while strength can create the projection of authenticity and warmth. Starting with warmth is said to be best since it helps connecting you with people around you and shows that you listen to them and creates the sense of trust. And once warmth is generated, strength will be received as a pleasant reassurance and leadership will be seen as a gift by your employees.
Source: Cuddy, A.J.C., M. Kohut and J. Neffinger. (2013). “Connect, Then Lead.” Harvard Business Review, July-August 2013.
 

 
 

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