How would you rate your current or former bosses in terms of effectiveness and warmth? In a Zenger Folkman study of 51,836 leaders, only 27 received simultaneous high scores for effectiveness and low scores for warmth. Said another way, an unapproachable leader has only about a 1 in 2,000 chance of being effective. But warmth, considered a soft managerial skill, can often feel like a moving target. How do we lead with warmth? The answer is simpler than you might think.
Originally published in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People debuted into a fragile and shell-shocked American public. With the Great Depression lingering and unemployment at nearly 17%, people were desperate for the simple, actionable steps the book provided. Advice like, “don’t criticize, condemn, or complain,” and “become genuinely interested in others,” met with overwhelming public interest. Critics, however, reacted differently. The New York Times warned readers that Carnegie’s advice was “extremely simple,” and “should not overrule the foundation of actual knowledge.” Sinclair Lewis denounced Carnegie’s method as simply “teaching people to smile and bob and pretend to be interested.” It was Carnegie’s simplest actionable step, however, that generated the greatest scorn from critics. The advice? “Smile.”
Interestingly, a growing body of recent research suggests that smiling is one of the easiest and most effective ways for leaders to convey warmth. This nonverbal form of communication shows our teams that we’re pleased to be in their company, that we’re open and receptive to their ideas, and most importantly, that we can be trusted. Princeton social psychologist Alex Todorov calls this “spontaneous trait inference” and argues that human beings are remarkably receptive to—and influenced by—facial expression.
In management settings, this is incredibly important. By harnessing the simple human predisposition to equate a smiling face with warmth, and warmth with trustworthiness, we use a powerful tool in our leadership arsenal. Employees who trust their leaders not only comply with directives, but are more likely to adopt the values and mission of the organization, and to be team players. There’s only one catch, Carnegie warns: your smile must be sincere.
To project warmth, you must feel warmth. No one responds well to phony. Carnegie’s advice? Stay true to your personality. For some leaders, that means smiling broadly and increasing the volume and dynamic range of your voice to convey excitement and happiness. For some, it means a smile and a nod to show appreciation for a job well done, and for others, it could be as simple as making eye contact and smiling as you say, “good morning.” There is no right or wrong way to smile at your team, as long as your smile is real. The important thing is simply to do it.
Dale Carnegie understood the power of a sincere smile. When our nation was consumed with worry over finances and the political climate, he advised his students to take the time to simply make eye contact and smile at someone else. In today’s changing business environment, human connection is more important—and more lacking—than ever. As more research comes to light, confirming the profound effect the human smile has in leadership situations, it can be tempting to overcomplicate the idea—to make rules and scenarios to get it right. But, Dale Carnegie knew a simple approach was best when he said, “A sincere smile changes everything.”
Are you wondering how to lead with more warmth? Are you searching for ways to increase the trust factor among your teammates? Let us help. Our unique approach to leadership training harnesses the power of experiential learning to teach time-proven leadership methods that get results. Give us a call or check our Website for programs that fit your current training needs.
This month we celebrate the birthday of Dale Carnegie, born November 24, 1888, in Maryville, Missouri. The man who would help millions build confidence was born into poverty in rural Missouri. He left farming to attend college, trying his hand as a traveling salesman in Nebraska and an actor in New York City before teaching public speaking at a YMCA. His teaching techniques led him to write about public speaking and go on lecture tours. With the publication of his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), he gained an international following that continues to this day. His popular Dale Carnegie Training courses have been run for over a century, with their focus on helping individuals and businesses improve their performance.