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Why you should be more friendly at work

January 18, 2015, 4:00 PM UTC
Photograph by Laura Boyd

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? is written by Mary Civiello, President of Civiello Communications Group.

When taking on a new leadership role, I urge women to make likability a priority right out of the gate. Ever since Nicolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince, 500 years ago, experts have recognized that strength and likability/warmth are the two most important qualities in leadership. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, these qualities account for more than 90% of first impressions. However, Machiavelli said it’s hard to be both likable and strong, so he thought aiming for strength was safer.

Today, most new leaders concentrate on showing strength and competence, but unless someone is waiting around the corner with a sword drawn, a growing body of evidence suggests newly minted leaders should actually be focusing on likability first. While strength makes people feel they have to follow you, warmth makes employees WANT to follow you. Furthermore, the researchers found that warmth lays the foundation for trust, making it more likely employees will listen and remember what you say.

So how do you warm up? Focus on what you say and how you say it; show that you understand and care about others; and be authentic.

Here are my three best tips to display warmth:

It’s the easiest thing you can do to connect to people, yet the most common challenge I see in coaching executives. No matter how serious the message, you can always benefit from showing those pearly whites. You will smile naturally if you smile with your EYES as well as your mouth…think crow’s feet. Another way to ensure authenticity is connecting to your own feelings. Ask yourself, “are you really happy to be here? Pleased to see so many faces?” Finally, you can often give yourself something to smile about by telling a story.

Share stories
Tell stories that illustrate your values and who you are as an individual. They should be about your victories AND your struggles. As a coach, I have seen men and women forgo personal anecdotes in favor of data and hard facts in their presentations. Mainly because new leaders often fear that including personal experiences make them look inferior and unqualified when in fact, they add credibility to your message. If you really want people to take chances and innovate, you need to tell them about a time when you took a risk and share how scary it was. It’s comforting to your audience to hear that you too have failed and still came out ahead.

Forget the script
Reading from a script makes you sound disconnected from your audience and, more importantly, you lose authenticity. For example, if you merely read last year’s performance review word-for-word without incorporating any personal reflection your employees will not get a real sense of how you actually feel. So if you’re someone who feels safer with a script, just be sure to include some tidbits of your own opinion, because there is no greater risk to your leadership than appearing inauthentic.

So the bottom line for leaders: Yes, demonstrate your competence but first, warm it up to win!

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

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Why every new leader should take Lupita Nyong’o’s advice Gloria Larson, President of Bentley University.

Why I’m proud to be gay — at home and at work by Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young.

Why great doers don’t make great leaders by Liz Wiseman, President of Wiseman Group.

3 things you can learn from your worst boss by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

One CEO’s cheat sheet to the top by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 ways to think like a leader by Alyse Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

What the best bosses can learn from mountain ski guides by Susan Coelius Keplinger, President and COO of Triggit.

The one quality all leaders must have by China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work Institute.

3 lessons every new leader should know by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

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