Your employees are always evaluating you on two dimensions:
- “Do I trust my manager as a person?” (Warmth)
- “Do I respect my manager’s authority?” (Competence) (does he know his stuff?)
Here’s where most leaders go wrong:
Leaders today tend to emphasize and over-do their strength and competence over their warmth. That is exactly the wrong approach.
Here’s the big idea:
A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is, to begin with warmth first. (Remember: competence is essential, however, warmth is more natural to detect and judge)
The same research suggests that the way others perceive your levels of warmth and competence determines your ability to influence a situation.
If you’re highly competent but show only moderate warmth, you’ll get people to go along with you in the short run, but you won’t earn their genuine support. And if you show no warmth at all, beware of those who may start disengaging with you completely. On the other hand, if you display excessive warmth but have no competence, your employees will lose respect for your authority as a leader. Here are four classifications of warmth vs. competence with some very interesting labels according to the research.
Here’s how I would categorize my favorite TV show cast members
High Warmth and High Competence:
Pam Beesly is the perfect fit. She’s thoughtful, she’s a great listener and good at her job as a receptionist.
High Warmth and Low Competence:
Michael Scott is the most lovable of lovable people, but the dude can’t run a team or a team meeting. 🤣🤣
Low Warmth and High Competence:
Dwight Schrute is an epic salesman and a beet farmer, but has very little warmth. (I love Dwight. It was very hard for me to put him in the jerk bucket
Low Warmth and Low Competence:
Creed sucks at his job and isn’t a warm soul either. Remember he screwed up the paper order and I think he’s got an outstanding arrest warrant as well.
So, how do I influence my employees?
✅ Strive to be a lovable star. High on warmth and competence.
✅ Lead with the intangibles first (warmth) and then let your ability and competence do the talking.
✅ Even a few small nonverbal signals—a nod, positive feedback, geniune listening skills—can show your employees that you’re paying attention to their concerns.
✅ Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.
In all my travels, I’ve seen a lot of competent jerks, it’s time we upped our warmth game!