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Two types of trust that leaders must earn

In my last article I wrote about the role of strength and warmth in shaping first impressions of your leadership. A leader who fails to show visible warmth or strength in those first few moments will likely be judged unworthy of being followed.

So why does an absence of strength or warmth have such a profound effect on our relationship with a prospective leader? It fundamentally boils down to trust, the critical ingredient at the centre of any healthy psychological contract between a leader and those who choose to be led.

It’s About Trust

The bottom line is that a leader who fails to demonstrate enough strength or warmth is unable to satisfy the fundamental trust expectations of those they seek to lead.

Here’s how it works.

There are two trust-related assessments that we make of a potential leader. The first concerns their competence and strength, with the question your brain is seeking to answer is “Can I trust this leaders’ competence? Are they strong enough to make things happen and get the job done?”.

The second trust assessment is related to their intentions towards us, in other words their warmth. The question that demands answers is “Can this leader be trusted to serve our interests? Do they seem interested in us, or do they just care about themselves?”.

An absence of observable strength (competence) or warmth (good intentions) therefore fails to deliver on the basic trust expectations implicit within the leader-follower contract. In any human relationship, a lack of trust will result in avoidance and disconnection. The presence of trust instead encourages approach and cooperation. Warmth and strength facilitate greater trust, and therefore greater engagement and collaboration between leader and follower.

Trust and Leadership Engagement diagram
Can I trust your leadership?
The unique combination of warmth and strength allows leaders to effectively build trust, which then enables them to enlist and engage others in the work that needs to be done.

The Tyranny of ‘OR’

Odds are that your own experience proves our point. Whenever you have experienced less-than-satisfactory leadership there was likely an absence of warmth or strength or both.

Leadership that is strong without warmth is competent and is able to get things done but often appears over-controlling and self-serving, which in turn minimises trust and engagement.

On the other hand, leadership that is warm and connected is easy to relate with, but the absence of strength fails to meet our expectation that leaders take action, exercise their competence and make things happen. Warm but not strong leadership can therefore feel weak and sentimental.

Of course, when neither strength or warmth are present, we find leadership to be withdrawn, reluctant or overly-protective. Hardly the optimal leadership approach for enabling your success, or theirs!


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