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Connect, then lead

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According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, effective business leaders start with a foundation of warmth and understanding and then build on that foundation by demonstrating their strength and competence. If this sounds backward to you (as it did to me before I researched the topic), you might benefit from a change of tactic when it comes to leading your team.

Without first building a foundation of trust, it’s hard for others to listen to your ideas and dutifully follow. Research cited in the article shows that displays of strength and competence engender fear, resentment and envy. And these emotions do not lead to hard work, loyalty or commitment from those working under you.

Is it possible that more warmth and understanding for co-workers could help us lead more efficiently, sell in greater quantities and have our ideas heard more readily? In other words, could connecting first result in greater profitability? The research says yes. But, while most businesspeople are adept at demonstrating their strength, trust and the sharing of ideas comes only after a connection has been made.

So how do you cultivate a connection? Here are three tactics to get you started:

  1. Smile. People with warmth tend to smile a lot. And when you smile, other people smile back. It’s a natural reaction. But a smile must be authentic to have the sought-after effect, so find a reason to think happy, warm thoughts. This simple gesture of good will can change the dynamics of an interaction and leave a powerful impression.
  2. Listen early and often. The act of listening when someone else is speaking shows, almost more anything else, that you care about that person. It truly is a lost art in our multitasking, distracted world where everybody seems to be talking but not listening. And if you don’t really hear what the other person is saying, how can you make a connection?
  3. Positive body language. Do not close yourself off by crossing your arms or legs in a defensive posture. Instead be conscious of what your body language is saying and strive to remain open. When someone speaks to you, lean in receptively; it conveys interest and, yes, warmth.

Everyday we interact with strangers and not-so-strangers who don’t know how to show warmth or establish a connection. If you can stand out against this sea of indifference by demonstrating warmth and understanding, you’ll earn their trust—and their loyalty.

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Maribeth Kuzmeski is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. For more information, go to


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