Leader Warmth: Warmth Eats Competence For Breakfast

Leader Warmth: Warmth Eats Competence For Breakfast

“Warmth eats competence for breakfast.”

Last week I taught our Approachability Workshop to a great group of leaders. As always we began the workshop with our “everyday leaders” exercise. Each attendee shares a little about an influential leader in their lives.

This is one of my favorite parts of the workshop, because I get to hear so many great stories about the impact leaders make in the lives of those they lead. It’s always interesting to hear the similarities between these top leaders. One trait they often share is warmth.

Loran Nordgren, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, thinks warmth is the differentiating factor for great leadership. It’s what allows one leader to soar, while another looks behind to see no one is following.

What’s makes leader warmth so great?

A Zenger Folkman study looked at over 50,000 managers. It found that “a leader’s overall effectiveness is predicted more by warmth than competence.” Furthermore,

“If you’re seen as low-warmth, you have something like a 1-in-2000 chance to make the top quartile of effectiveness as a leader.”

That seems crazy, I know. You’d think the ability to perform the job effectively is more important than building strong relationships. But there is a saying (often mistakenly attributed to Peter Drucker) that culture eats strategy for breakfast. When it comes to leadership, warmth eats competence for breakfast.

The best leaders are those who “learn to convey high competence and high warmth,” Nordgren says. “You always need both.”

I could not agree more.

The problem is most leaders obtain their leadership position due to their competence and performance. Warmth is rarely considered, and even when considered is almost never a deal-breaker. After the promotion occurs, once again the priority is always on competence and rarely on warmth.

This is why so many leaders lack warmth. We often must develop this behavior. But how?

How to cultivate warmth

Nordgren writes that one of the most important things to remember regarding warmth is that it is “highly context dependent.”

“It means different things across different organizations and cultures…So part of the challenge is understanding how to convey it respectfully wherever you go.”

If you want to cultivate more warmth among your team, the first step is to know your team better. Each team member has a unique relationship with you. Pay close attention to each relationship and you will begin to recognize moments and actions to increase warmth.

I know that may sound a little complicated. A little labor intensive. It may even turn you off to this whole “warmth” thing. (If that’s the case, I can guarantee you will find value in the following exercise).

Start by creating the Right Space.

Do you think you could exercise your “warmth” muscles better than you do now? Then you want to work on your “curb appeal” or what I call creating the Right Space. You can learn a lot more about this in The Approachability Playbook. But here are a few quick tips to get you started (these come from our Right Space Tool, which is available in our Approachable Leadership Toolkit).

There are 4 elements involved with creating the Right Space:
  1. Physical Space (the space surrounding you, your office)
    • Is the physical space inviting and warm?
    • Is there a comfortable place to sit?
    • Are there any obstacles between you and your visitor? (Can they see you through your computer?)
  2. Behavior (check your nonverbal behavior and your reactions)
    • Are you smiling? Do you appear pleased to see them or annoyed that you’ve been interrupted?
    • Are you asking open-ended questions? Encouraging the conversation instead of trying to wrap it up?
    • Are you doing more than half the talking? Shut up.
  3. Availability (Can people get to you when they need you?)
    • How often are you around?
    • Do you welcome interruptions?
    • Is there a convenient way to schedule time on your calendar?
  4. Presence (Are you really there?)
    • Are you giving your visitor your full attention? Or are you checking your email at the same time?
    • Do you close the door to create more privacy when the discussion calls for it?
    • How often do you try to force a solution? Don’t problem-solve unless you’re invited to.

How’s your curb appeal? Take a little time to assess your own physical space, behavior, availability and presence. Do you see any room to improve? Of the 4 areas of Right Space, where do you need to improve the most? Take a little time this week to work on balancing your warmth with your competence.

Crew Resource Management and United Flight 173

Crew Resource Management and United Flight 173

Don’t Mess With Mother Nature

Last week I continued my hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail. It was a beautiful day for a hike and my good friend Mike and I hit the trail planning on a nice 9-miler. At that point we’d be met by my wife and daughter on a forest road near a creek crossing. Or at least that was the plan.

At about mile 7 Mike and I got to see a massive display of why you don’t mess with Mother Nature. We didn’t realize that an F-1 tornado had ripped through this section of the Ozark National Forest just a week before our hike. It threw massive trees (some of the root balls were taller than me) across the trail. Some were pulled up from the roots while others were snapped like toothpicks 40 feet above our heads.

Needless to say we hadn’t planned on having to leave the trail every few hundred yards over what we thought would be our last 2 miles. Our pace slowed to a crawl. When we finally crossed Greasy Creek and arrived at the rendezvous point we realized our hike wouldn’t end there. Trees also blocked forest road access to this remote part of the forest. Our 9-miler just turned into a 15-miler.

While we weren’t aware of the mayhem on the trail, Mike and I quickly grabbed the map and talked through our plan. He was going to be out of water soon but I always travel with a water filter so when we ran out of water we were able to refill. I was slowing down so we agreed he’d hike ahead the last two miles. We finally made it to Chancel Campground as the sun started to set, tired but with a great story to tell.

Things could have been a LOT worse. I’ve had a few run-ins with rattlesnakes on this trail and even though we spent a lot of time off the beaten path we didn’t see any of those guys. More important, we weren’t hiking a week earlier during a tornado!

What’s Your Worst Case Scenario?

In order to be safe on the trail you have to think about your worst case scenario. But what if something went wrong at your workplace? What’s the worst that could happen? You lose a lucrative customer? Your brand gets a black mark? You have to fire a beloved employee? Or maybe someone dies?

Worst case scenarios are different for all of us. But regardless, no one wants to find themselves there. If you find yourself in a bad situation – like Mike and I did in the woods – good communication is critical. Poor communication can turn a bad situation into a crisis.

When things go bad at work our teams look to us for answers. As leaders we often feel it is our duty to solve the problem. Unfortunately we often create the communication problems that make a bad situation a worst case. Many times we get so fixated on solving the problem in front of us that we ignore crucial information from our teams. Do that and situations spiral out of control.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this leadership paradox lately. Not just because of the hike, but because I ran across another plane crash that could have easily been solved if the captain had been a more approachable leader.

United Flight 173

In 1978. United Flight 173 was headed to Portland International Airport when the crew discovered a landing gear problem. During the next hour, the captain focused entirely on troubleshooting the landing gear. Meanwhile, he ignored repeated warnings from his crew members that fuel levels were dwindling. (See a reenactment in this short Youtube video).

It wasn’t until the engines started going out that the captain started listening to his crew and acknowledged their dire situation. It was too late. United Flight 173 was forced to land in a Portland neighborhood.

Ten people died.

The NTSB investigator who inspected the crash noted several similarities between United Flight 173 and the Tenerife Airport Disaster that killed 583 people in 1977. Also, the Eastern Airlines Flight 401 that killed 101 people in 1972.

Out of these disasters, crew resource management (also known as cockpit resources management) was born.

What is Crew Resource Management?

“CRM can be defined as a management system which makes optimum use of all available resources—equipment, procedures and people—to promote safety and enhance the efficiency of operations…The primary goal of CRM is enhanced situational awareness, self awareness, leadership, assertiveness, decision making, flexibility, adaptability, event and mission analysis, and communication. Specifically, CRM aims to foster a climate or culture where authority may be respectfully questioned.”

I want to point out one particular phrase here that I think is very important.

“CRM aims to foster a climate or culture where authority may be respectfully questioned.”

This is the primary purpose behind Crew Resource Management training. It’s also foundational to Approachable Leadership.

Power Distance is a Huge Problem

It’s hard for people to speak honestly with their boss. It just is. And the more hierarchical the structure and culture of your facility, the more difficult this becomes. Especially when there is disagreement.

Rarely will you find an employee who feels so comfortable and secure with her relationship with you and her value in the organization that she will openly disagree with you. If you do have someone like that on your team you’ve probably done a lot to create that relationship. You have made her feel so valuable that she can speak freely. You have invested in a real relationship so that the whole dynamic isn’t founded on “this guy can fire me.”

Maybe you like the power dynamic. The day is a lot less stressful if everyone just agrees with you. Treats you with respect. I get it. You’ve probably earned it. But when the chips are down I guarantee you’ll like staying out of the danger zone even better. And if your team doesn’t feel safe challenging you when things are going smooth they won’t do it when it really counts. That’s the fast lane to a worst case scenario.

But having an employee who isn’t afraid to speak up is just the first piece of the puzzle. You have to be ready and willing to listen.

A Tip to Bridge the Gap

One of the things I try to do is to ask what people think before I say what I think. This is a challenge for me and might be for you too. Before I blurt out my answer I try to catch myself and say, “You know, I can see a couple of ways to handle this, but I’m not sure. What do you think?”

This doesn’t just invite my team to speak up. It shows vulnerability on my end. (I definitely don’t have all the answers.) And it builds confidence on their end. Let’s be honest. The less you speak, the more likely your team will speak up. I want a team that speaks up. Even if it means telling me things I don’t always want to hear.

When was the last time bad communication got you in a jam? How much of that was your employee feeling uncertain, but afraid to speak up? Not sure? Now there’s a place to start.

Rediscover Priority: Why You and Your Team Should Do Less

Rediscover Priority: Why You and Your Team Should Do Less

How often do you find yourself doing work that’s just good enough?

I do it more often than I’d like to admit… unfortunately. So does my team. I’d guess that the majority of teams at the majority of workplaces fit the same bill. Why do we fall into this rut so often? Is it by our own design?

I read an article recently by Michael Cho that focused on one simple piece of advice that sustained two American empires—Apple and Nike. The advice came from Steve Jobs, but Nike CEO Mark Parker shared it with the world.

Here’s what happened.

When Parker was first named CEO of Nike in 2006, he gave Jobs a call. Nike was struggling, even though it may not have seemed like it to the public. And Parker was eager to reexamine Nike’s strategy. During their call, Steve Jobs gave Parker one piece of advice that stuck:

Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.

Shortly after, and in partnership with Apple, Nike launched one of their most successful campaigns ever—Nike+.

This strategy of sticking with what you do best is something that you see in the foundation of Apple. Or at least, since Jobs returned to the company in 1997. The first thing Jobs did was cut.

“By the end of that year, Jobs had killed almost 70% of Apple’s products. A year later, the company had gone from losses of $1.04 billion to a $309 million profit. Jobs saw Apple as distracted by opportunities. And while opportunities seem innocent enough, we often forget the commitments that come with them: energy, time, and money.”

The Trouble with Opportunity

Innovation is extremely important. Especially in today’s rapidly changing society. But if you’re not careful, this need to keep up with the times can actually do you more harm than good. You lose focus. You’re spread too thin. And when we set ourselves up that way, something has to give.

Before you know it, you may be doing a lot of work. But you’re doing very little great work. Your (and your team’s) lack of time, energy, and money has made good enough the new norm.

So what can you do?

Rediscover Priority

Notice I said “priority,” not “priorities.” “Priority” first showed up in the English language in the 1400s. It meant “the very first thing.” Not things. “Priority” only became plural in the 1950s.

“Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple ‘first’ things.”

This, from Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism.

It’s so easy to spread yourself too thin. I am as guilty of that as any person. Professionally and personally. We convince ourselves that everything is a priority. And because of that, nothing is.

Imagine how much better your work, your products, your leadership skills would be if you really made yourself cut the fluff.

Rediscover priority and embrace the possibility that less really can be more.

Just ask Steve Jobs.

What’s your most valuable or promising product/endeavor/service? How much time, energy, and focus does it get? Where’s the rest being spent? And when was the last time you did great work?

Can Approachability Make You Younger and More Healthy?

Can Approachability Make You Younger and More Healthy?

Do You Ever Wish for a Real Fountain of Youth?

This weekend we celebrated the birthday of a friend. Her husband announced she had “graduated from her mid-30’s.” As someone who will be graduating from my mid-40’s before long, I am thinking more and more about getting older. My beard is getting grayer. My workout highlight last week was setting PR on my stress test.

I’m beginning to think a lot more about my age and keeping in shape. Kind of makes me wish there really was a Fountain of Youth. And I’m not alone. Today it seems like every other commercial, from eye cream to energy pills to (ahem) performance enhancement, promises to turn back the clock on aging. The human race is obsessed with youth. Or at least, the benefits of youth.

And even though “quick fixes” still occupy a significant amount of space in this world (17.1 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the U.S. alone last year), I do feel like we are experiencing a shift. More and more people seem to focus on being proactive.

People are recognizing that the key to being healthy and feeling good as you age is to take responsibility for your self and your body. There’s a rise in organic food. A movement around no preservatives. Eating like a caveman (my personal favorite). And meditation isn’t just a word you hear at yoga retreats. That’s because the key to living younger, healthier, and longer isn’t just about how you take care of your body. It’s also about how you take care of your mind and your soul. Your relationships. And science agrees.

The Telomerase Effect

On Christmas Day in 1984, two scientists discovered an enzyme that helps protect people from premature cellular aging. Fifteen years later, Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak were awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering and researching the enzyme called “telomerase.”

Blackburn has a new book out: “The Telomerase Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer.” It discerns “cellular aging and how it is connected to our behaviors and the physical and social environments we live in.”

“In a nutshell, healthy behaviors and environments produce the telomerase enzyme that lengthens the telomeres. Telomeres are the hard end tips of our chromosomes (think of the hard part at the end of a shoestring and you get the idea). Short telomeres are one of the primary causes of cellular aging. They make our bodies vulnerable to early disease. Chronic ongoing stress shortens telomeres.”

What sort of lifestyle activities are associated with longer telomeres? Well, just what you’d expect.

  • Healthy eating;
  • Getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night;
  • Mindfulness activities such as prayer and/or meditation; and
  • Moderate exercise.

Meanwhile, environments with toxic chemicals and toxic relationships are associated with shorter telomeres. Chronic job stress is another large contributor. Which brings me to my next point.

How approachability makes you younger and more healthy

Approachable leaders transform relationships at work. They create and encourage connection. Research shows that teams led by approachable leaders are more likely to help each other out, grit through change, and are less likely to look for greener pastures. These regular positive connections and relationships are associated with lower chronic health problems and better health.

Unapproachable leaders, on the other hand, breed toxic workplaces.  Blackburn and her team found that one of the key problems with disconnection (among others) was increased stress neurotransmitters and hormones such as cortisol. Disconnection, stress, and frustration cause lack of cooperation, lack of engagement and turnover. Employees in these environments get a regular dump of stress hormones and have much higher levels of stress-related disease and chronic health conditions.

The foundation of Approachable Leadership is The Connection Model. This model encourages people to be open, understanding, and supportive. Because we find that when your relationships are right, everything else falls into place. Not just at work (although research shows approachable people make more money, are more likely to get hired and less likely to be laid off). Approachable people live longer and even have better love lives.

What do you think about the telomerase effect? What do you do to decrease physical and emotional stress in your life? Does work-related stress ever impact your health? Does your diet and health ever negatively impact your work? Let us know in the comments!

Gallup Q12 and How Approachable Leaders Drive Engagement

Gallup Q12 and How Approachable Leaders Drive Engagement

Have you heard of the Gallup Q12 “engagement” factors?

If you’ve been around HR for any length of time, you are familiar with Gallup Q12 research. It is a widely used “engagement” measurement. I put engagement in quotes because I don’t think these statements really measure engagement. At least how I define it, but that is an entirely different article.

A while back I ran across an interesting analysis of the Gallup Q12 research. This research looked at how each of the Gallup Q12 statements related to overall engagement. It compared the percentage of “engaged” workers who agreed with each statement to how many “disengaged” workers agreed with the same statement.

For example, if you looked at the statement “I have a best friend at work” (a statement that I don’t think is related to engagement by the way), 74 percent of engaged workers agreed with the statement. 19 percent of disengaged workers also agreed.

Diving into the Data

For fun, I decided to run a “back of the napkin” (OK, back of the spreadsheet) analysis of the results for all 12 questions. But I added one more measure. I subtracted the disengaged people who agreed with a Gallup Q12 statement from the engaged ones who agreed with the same statement.

Why would I do that? Because if a disengaged employee feels exactly the same about a statement as an engaged one, that factor probably doesn’t relate too much to engagement. On the other hand, if there is a big difference between the way engaged and disengaged employees see a factor it is more likely to explain engagement. I found the analysis interesting. Below you can see how each statement ranked. These are sorted from largest to smallest difference between engaged and disengaged respondents:

Gallup Q12 Engagement Drivers

Q12 Statement% of Engaged Employees who Agree% of Disengaged Employees who AgreeDifference Between Engaged and Disengaged
Someone at work encourages my development.971087
I have opportunities to learn and grow at work.981385
Someone at work talks to me about my progress.921379
My manager cares about me.982078
I view my job as important to the company.982276
I have been praised recently at work.881375
My opinion counts at work.911972
I have a best friend at work.741955
My coworkers are committed to quality work.934449
I am able to do my best every day.995346
I have the equipment needed to do my job.987028
I know what is expected of me at work.998910

What do you see?

The first thing I noticed were those bottom 5 statements. Especially the bottom two on work expectations and equipment. Items like these are routinely rated high on our surveys as well (we don’t ask them on our Approachability surveys for this reason). Statements like these are essentially unrelated to engagement. In other words, chances are good that you agree with these statements whether you are engaged or not.

The next three statements relate to work relationships (“I have a best friend at work” and “my colleagues are committed to quality work”) and general satisfaction with your day-to-day work. These are only loosely related to engagement.

The top seven statements appear much more related to engagement. Disengaged employees generally did not agree with them. The top three statements especially stood out to me because they each relate to the third question of Approachable Leaders: Where are you going?

The third question of Approachable Leaders is based on the assumption “people want to make progress.” And each of these statements is about progress and development. Lesson one is if you want to drive engagement, focus on progress and development with your team.

The next statement deals directly with leader connection. A net 80% of engaged workers believed their leader cares about them as a person. That is the second habit of Approachable Leaders – understanding and creating the “right feeling” of connection.

Finally, the remainder of these top seven statements relate to acknowledgment and praise. Around a net 75% of workers agreed that their leaders praised them and encouraged suggestions. Not surprisingly, about the same number felt like their job was important to the organization.

The Approachable Leadership Connection

I think this analysis emphasizes how important the habits of Approachable Leaders are to employee engagement and motivation.

However you define engagement or satisfaction (we suggest focusing more on organization citizenship) there is no question that some leader behaviors are more important than others. This research shows that the most important behaviors cluster around the same things Approachable Leaders focus on every day. Connect with others by being open to suggestions and feedback. Be understanding. And support the progress and growth of each teammate.

What have you tried to improve engagement with your team? Any out of the box ideas that worked? What about supposed “tried and true” efforts that didn’t? What do you think was missing? Let us know in the comments!

The Magic Bank Account: A Billfold of Inspiration

The Magic Bank Account: A Billfold of Inspiration

Something showed up in my email that got me thinking.

It was this chain message. Normally once I see something like that I immediately click my trashcan icon without so much as giving it a second look. I’m sure you all know where I’m coming from. Our emails can become one of the most overwhelming things in our life. But I guess it’s WHO sent this to me that convinced me it was probably worth a read.

The author of this story is unknown. It was found in the billfold of Coach Paul Bear Bryant, Alabama, after he died in 1982.

And with that I’ll leave you to it…

The Magic Bank Account

Imagine that you had won the following *PRIZE* in a contest:

Each morning your bank would deposit $86,400 in your private account for your use. However, this prize has rules.

The set of rules are:

  1. Everything that you didn’t spend during each day would be taken away from you.
  2. You may not simply transfer money into some other account.
  3. You may only spend it.
  4. Each morning upon awakening, the bank opens your account with another $86,400 for that day.
  5. The bank can end the game without warning; at any time, it can say, “Game Over!” It can close the account and you will not receive a new one.

What would you personally do?

You would buy anything and everything you wanted right? Not only for yourself, but for all the people you love and care for. Even for people you don’t know, because you couldn’t possibly spend it all on yourself—right?

You would try to spend every penny, and use it all, because you knew it would be replenished in the morning, right?


Shocked??? Yes!!!

Each of us is already a winner of this *PRIZE*. We just can’t seem to see it.

The PRIZE is “TIME.”

  1. Each morning we awaken to receive 86,400 seconds as a gift of life.
  2. And when we go to sleep at night, any remaining time is not credited to us.
  3. What we haven’t used up that day is forever lost.
  4. Yesterday is forever gone.
  5. Each morning the account is refilled, but the bank can dissolve your account at any time WITHOUT WARNING…

SO, what will YOU do with your 86,400 seconds?

Those seconds are worth so much more than the same amount in dollars. Think about it and remember to enjoy every second of your life, because time races by so much quicker than you think.

So take care of yourself, be happy, love deeply and enjoy life.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful and beautiful day.