Research on successful leadership has shown that the combination of warmth (caring for others) and strength (being competent at your job) can be powerful. These skills answer two critical questions: What are this person’s intentions toward me?" and "Is he or she capable of acting on those intentions?"
You may already be known for either warmth or strength in your workplace, but if not, there are clear ways to cultivate both. And once you do, you'll be more likely to be seen as a well-rounded and trusted leader who’s ready to move up in the organization.
Are you showing both warmth and strength at work?
Warmth in the workplace is defined as approachability, being supportive, validating others’ feelings, and an ability to focus on positive relationships. Strength, on the other hand, means competence, effectiveness, good time management skills, and being capable. Strength does not mean that you are harsh, strict, or overly regimented.
If you’re trying to determine whether you exude both warmth and strength, you likely have some data available—your most recent performance review or stakeholders’ comments about your work. If colleagues note how kind or patient you are, using words like “thoughtful”, or “approachable”, you’re likely displaying a good amount of warmth. If people share personal stories with you or ask you for advice, this again points to warmth.
If you’re often referred to as “the data expert”, “focused on results” or “highly competent” then you’re likely showing considerable strength. Likewise, if colleagues come to you for help with execution or to sort through a complex technical issue, this suggests you are excelling in this area.
Your goal should be for colleagues to perceive you as well-rounded, with the ability to show both warmth and strength. This means that a coworker would be just as likely to invite you out for a coffee as they would to ask you to lead a committee or take on a new project.
Make a plan to learn new skills
If warmth is a challenge for you, consider what it is that makes it so difficult. Perhaps you equate it with vulnerability or weakness. On the flip side, you might be concerned that showing strength will lead to colleagues thinking you’re too focused on competence or effectiveness.
Once you’ve identified challenges or barriers, make a list of three people in your organization who, if asked, will be honest with you. Your list might include your manager, a teammate, and a partner in another department. Share some of the links in this article with them and ask for their opinion on how you might bring more of both strength and warmth to your workplace. Take notes and don’t get discouraged if you end up with a lot of feedback.
Once you’ve completed interviews with your colleagues, it’s time to set a plan for building those new skills in order to bring more of the warmth and strength dynamic to your work. Use your notes to determine the highest priority items and create simple goals.
For example, to show more warmth, your goals might look like this:
- Stop by a colleague’s desk a few times a week to see how they’re doing.
- Reach out to someone in the midst of a challenge and invite them to coffee.
- In your next staff meeting, ask how an upcoming change is impacting people on the team and reflect back to the team what you’ve heard.
To show more strength, you might commit to:
- Lead the team in setting meaningful deadlines on an upcoming project and work hard to collectively meet them.
- Attend a training session on a job-related topic and bring that new knowledge to an upcoming discussion with your manager or team.
- Without being asked, solve a problem that has been plaguing your team for a considerable amount of time.
Learn from others
Not surprisingly, observing leaders who balance kindness and competence can boost your confidence. Look throughout your organization to see who does this well. What words do they use to show they care, and what actions do they take to show they’re in control? What do people on your team say about these leaders? Once you have a good idea of how they exude these two qualities, try out a few yourself and not how your efforts are received.
You can also look to leaders in popular culture or others in the public eye who seem to be truly successful. In what ways do they ensure people feel heard (warmth) and get results (strength)? Add to your reading list biographies of business, government, or social-impact leaders and as you read, as yourself, in what ways did the subject balance warmth and strength, and what were the results?
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Liz S. Peintner is a leadership coach and consultant based in Denver, Colorado who has spent her entire career in the social impact field. She helps people to better understand what drives them so they can choose careers they love and ultimately make positive social impact in ways that speak to their talents and passions.