Newsletter #538 – Connect, Then Lead

“Most of us try to demonstrate competence above all else inLikeability the workplace, but research suggests that the way to influence others—and to lead—is to begin with warmth.” That is the theme of a Harvard Business Review article in an issue focused on having an influence (July/August, 2013). According to the authors, when we judge others we look at two characteristics, in this order: how likeable, warm and trustworthy they appear to be, and how much competence and strength they show. “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.” Politicians know this but can these principles apply as well to coaches, counselors, educators, and other communicators? Can the principles apply to jobseekers, including young professionals starting their careers? Prospective employers want to know that the candidate is competent but liking the applicant is equally—and sometimes even more—important.

Some research shows that when people emphasize their competence and skills, they might be respected and even admired. But if they lack warmth, these competent people tend to be distrusted, sometimes resented and even feared. “Leaders and others who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting a host of dysfunctional behaviors that can undermine cognitive potential, creativity, problem solving,” and employee engagement.  These competent people who lack warmth are not perceived to be good leaders and over time they are less successful and earn less money.

 In contrast when leaders, communicators and others are seen as being warm and likeable they generate good will. They are more likely to be trusted, open, listened to, and viewed as leaders worthy of our support and cooperation. Of course in themselves warmth and evidence of trustworthiness are not enough to bring success and leader effectiveness. Warm, gracious people who lack competence tend to be pitied and not respected. But when there is interpersonal connection, followed by evidence of competence, we see effectiveness, success, good leadership and even “significantly higher economic gains.”

The HBR writers make a good argument for these conclusions? Do you agree? Have you see the principles from this article demonstrated? Please comment.


  1. Connecting first builds trust and rapport. It opens people up and helps them become ready to engage with you.

    The COACH Model has Connect as the first of 5 steps to an empowering conversation. Gary graciously wrote the Foreword for my book on the same topic: “The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.”

    I take a few moments at the beginning of every coaching conversation to Connect with the coachee. I ask questions like: How have you been? What insights have you had since our last conversation? And then I listen. Showing interest and listening to someone builds a lot of connection.

    Thanks for the newsletter Gary!


    1. These are GREAT comments Keith.

      In the first edition of my coaching book I had six steps (there are four in the second edition). The first step was similar to “connect” in your COACH model and book. But what I wrote was not as specific about connecting as what you teach in your model. You are more on-target there than I was. You have shown the importance of connecting in every coach conversation. Thanks for emphasizing this.

      And thanks for your post, your contribution to the coaching field overall, and your friendship.


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