The Happy Warrior Matrix

It may sound like an academic question. It isn’t.

Which of your personal assets make your colleagues, clients, team want to follow you? Is it your warmth? Is it your competence?

The answer – duh – is both. But here’s the important part: BOTH need to be EQUALLY present.

This is the loud message from a whole lot of fresh behavioral research about the warmth/competence mix. A compelling article in the current issue of Harvard Business Review (“Connect, then Lead”), penned by the formidable Amy J.C. Cuddy from Harvard Business School and fellow researchers Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger, tells the story.

I love the word “warmth.” We tend to circumvent it with lots of leadership jargon. Empathy. Emotional Intelligence. Extroversion. But warmth is something essential and primal that all of us experience kinesthetically. We “get it” deep down. And it is irresistible.

Think back.

The moment we enroll in school to get our professional education, we are taught competence, competence, competence. Leading with warmth is, at best, an after-thought. If you have your MBA, you know. Ditto if you went to Medical School. The singular focus on “competence first” is all-pervasive and increasingly global.

Now here is the part I urge us to really pay attention to.

What is the personal price we pay for not finding our warmth/competence mix? According to Cuddy and her colleagues Susan Fiske of Princeton and Peter Glick of Lawrence University, people who we view as having lots of competence but lacking in warmth tend to elicit envy in us. And envy is a double-edged sort: Sure, it may include respect but it also contains a strong streak of resentment.

On the other hand, people who are viewed as being warm but lacking in competence tend to elicit pity. Another double-edged emotion. Pity may harbor a kernel of compassion but more likely also a hefty lack of respect.

Happy Warriors lead with a wondrous warmth/competence mix.

Cuddy and colleagues mention former Texas governor Ann Richards as a near flawless warmth/competence integrator. When I think of warmth/competence and our current crop of male political leaders on both sides of the aisle, I shudder. It is hard to find a Happy Warrior anywhere, isn’t it?

No wonder …

So how do we channel both warmth and competence?

No matter what words we may be uttering, in the end both warmth and competence are conveyed through the body. Or let me put it this way – if our body doesn’t convey it, it doesn’t matter that our words may scream warm and competent. Words often lie. The body doesn’t.

Two simple warmth/competence triggers:

  1. The genuine smile: We know by now that a smile can melt an iceberg. A polite smile won’t. A fake smile won’t, either. A genuine smile is triggered by a powerful private association I have with the moment I am in, or any external stimulus that elicits a joyful association. So – allow yourself to connect with your inner and outer joy-triggers. And yes, smile.

  2. The power pose: This may strike you as silly – but as a former acting coach I know how spot-on it is. Cuddy suggests that we adopt “power poses” associated with strength and dominance from the animal kingdom. Think wide, sturdy, expansive. Think Wonder Woman or Superman.

A mere 2 minutes of holding a power pose before a crucial meeting will increase your testosterone levels and your sense of confidence – which is a key manifestation of competence. Hint: You may wish to do this in the privacy of your office first. Then watch yourself ooze silent competence as you enter your meeting.

This week, decide to show up as a Happy Warrior. Monitor your warmth/competence matrix. Choose body language that genuinely conveys both. And delight in this powerful recalibration of your personal presence. Note: For more information on the warmth/competence mix, read “Connect, then Lead” by Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger in the July/August 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review