Charisma and magnetism aren’t qualities that come naturally to every leader – but anyone can learn to become more influential. You simply need to understand the hidden qualities of compelling people.
According to John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut, the authors of Compelling People, we make two judgements about people when we meet them. These judgements are based on a person’s perceived strength and warmth – it is these qualities that can forge influential leaders.
In the book, strength is described as having ‘the ability to affect the world and the gumption to take action’. Obviously, we will always flock to figures of strength over figures of weakness, because they command our respect. They appear willing, stable, strong and are perceived as having the ability to protect us and achieve goals.
Neffinger and Kohut describe warmth as the element that makes people like and support you because of shared interests and concerns. Generally speaking, it’s much easier to take to a warm person than a cold person. We find them easier to connect with and trust, and enjoy the feeling of familiarity and heightened sense of care they give us.
The importance of balancing strength and warmth
Strength and warmth are leadership characteristics that don’t need to exclude one another. Focusing too much on showing strength can potentially inspire wariness and fear in people, while focusing too much on warmth could go so far as to make you appear meek and submissive.
Ideally, leaders should balance strength and warmth and combine them to present a strong and emotionally intelligent persona that appeals to all stakeholders, including colleagues, employees, customers, media and even your own boss.
When building relationships, starting with warmth can be beneficial
Research suggests that it can be beneficial for managers to start with a focus on warmth. Establishing trust and a strong connection with staff is often best achieved through gestures of warmth – for example, wearing a smile, giving a nod of encouragement or sharing a joke.
Once your warmth has been established, you can forge ahead in practicing a balance of strength and warmth, depending on the context of the situation and your leadership goal.
When strength and warmth are most relevant at work
While every situation in the workplace will call for a unique response and decision whether to approach it more from a point of strength or warmth, there are some scenarios that are simply more suited to each of these characteristics.
Strength can be useful when:
- Writing your resume or cover letter
- You need to communicate an idea or delegate a task
- You are leading a negotiation
- You need to use your organisational skills
- Providing solutions and stability during times of crisis
Warmth can be useful when:
- It’s your first day at a new job
- You’re completing team bonding exercises
- Connecting with new employees
- You’re trying to communicate organisational vision
- You’re dealing with matters of organisational culture
If you look back through history, you’ll notice that most of those leaders who are remembered most fondly and with great respect, showed a balance of strength and warmth in their approach to leading. These are the influential leaders who were able to connect with their people and achieve their goals.
With some self-reflection on your own characteristics and strategic thinking around the way you show strength and warmth in the workplace, you too can become an influential leader.
John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut are founding partners in KNP Communications, which specialises in preparing speakers for high-stakes audiences. Their clients include corporate executives, elected officials and media personalities, and they regularly lecture at universities and serve as commentators on air and in print.
You can learn more about the qualities that make people influential in their book Compelling People.