If you just got a promotion, started a new job and are charged with managing a staff of strangers or even if you’re scouting for new clients, you’re likely facing a unique challenge. You need people to like you and respect your authority. But how do you do both?
“You need to project a combination of strength and warmth, and it’s a trick to project both at once,” says John Neffinger, co-author of “Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential” with Matthew Kohut, a book that’s currently being taught at Harvard, Columbia and Georgetown business schools. It’s a bit like “rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. Definitely doable, not so easy.”
Here’s how to strike the right balance.
Start With Warmth
You may be tempted to flex authority and lay down the law if you’re new to a situation in order to gain respect. Don’t. Neffinger and Kohut recommend going for projecting warmth first. “Get in the circle with your co-workers or reports by asking questions, finding out about people’s interests and establishing common ground.” Most people make judgments in about someone’s warmth factor in the first tenth of a second, and it’s hard to establish warmth if you don’t do it right away. So start with being liked. You can project your strength and competence later.
“Look at relationships, kindness and respecting others” when you seek to be not only heard, but followed, advises Lorin Beller, of Lorin Beller & Co., which provides trainings and coaching for women entrepreneurs.
Take a Stand
"Respect and being liked are not mutually exclusive, but managing both requires finesse,” says Andrea Chilcote, CEO of Morningstar Ventures, a professional coaching consultancy. The trick is to influence without shutting others down. You have to listen as much as advocate your own ideas. “People respect leaders who establish and pursue a clear strategy.” Chilcote advises taking a collaborative approach. “Get input from diverse parties, then take a stand in a decisive manner,” she says.
Get in the Trenches
“Be willing to get your hands dirty,” says Cornelia Shipley, a lifestyle strategy expert, founder of 3C Consulting and creator of the annual Design Your Life event. “You need to role model the level and type of engagement you expect from those you work with.” Shipley tells the story of one of her clients who began her new job as a vice president by designing a “listening tour,” where she held meetings and encouraged employees to ask questions and discuss their ideas and concerns. She went on the tour quarterly to understand the pulse of her organization. As a result, her direct reports began their own listening tours, which dramatically increased communication and feedback across her division and team.
Acknowledge Employees’ Behavior
“I worked with a leader who designed a ‘caught in the act’ award,” says Shipley. “It was awarded when employees were caught in the act of living the values and principles the team was trying to embody.” Those awards ranged from plaques to gifts to cash, depending on the display. Public recognition of winning behavior also provides incentives for employees to improve and be mindful of their attitudes and actions.
”It’s important that a new leader is transparent enough to show her reports why the decision had to be made for the best interests of the business, even though it may adversely affect of some of the players,” says Sally Haver, SVP for business development at The Ayers Group/Career Partners International.
Good leaderships always involves making sometimes unpopular decisions. But if you’ve made it clear that only your top sales performers will be guaranteed their jobs when the budget axe comes down and lower-performing staffers will be offered transfers to satellite offices, then no one will be surprised when quarterly reports reveal who needs to pack their bags.
Exude What You Know
Especially if you’re trying to sell something — and, really, who isn’t? — exude credibility. It’s the “‘I’ve been there, done that, this is what works, this is what doesn’t’ approach, accompanied by real-life vignettes,” says Haver. A good manager has a trove of war stories she can pull out when staff seems confused about what to do or how to act, but won’t oversell her expertise. Let them know about your four tried-and-true ways to close a deal, but also let it be known that you refer to the company’s research department for gathering background information on potential clients.
Play Your Mom Card
You can use your parental skills at work. When you act in the interest of the team — something moms are great at — you project warmth, says Neffinger. You can also be stern, without getting upset —another trait moms have down cold — to project strength. For example, “You can tell someone they’ve screwed up or didn’t pull their weight, as long as you do so on behalf of the team or organization,” says Kohut.
Think about what you might tell your son who just popped the balloon that a group was playing with on the playground and translate it. “Honey, you broke the toy, and now no one can play” turns into “Since Group B’s dashboard measurements are down, the department won’t get that extra slice of the discretionary budget. No new programs this year.” You’re standing up for the best interests of the department, not specifically criticizing one person.