Of all the business problems companies have, I think they become more magnified when the chief executive officers lose sight that their organization is made up of people. When things go wrong, their focus is primarily on finance or strategy, or both: But, not on people.
This is a big mistake—to ignore the people who will actually execute any new strategy, especially if they feel disconnected and overwhelmed by your last plan. I’ve written about marketing from the inside out and the importance of inclusion over coercion. But, is the C-suite listening?
When your employees feel disconnected and that no one cares, they begin to shut down. Unhappy employees are unproductive employees, and this loss of interest affects every area of your business, particularly your customers.
It may be time to ask:
Is my company depressed?
Here are 7 signs of which to be aware:
- Low energy and self-esteem (Projects often seem to lose direction)
- Poor concentration (Costly errors are escalating)
- Difficulty making decisions (Deadlines are missed)
- Feelings of hopelessness (Recurring thoughts of layoffs)
- Social withdrawal (More conflict, less collaboration)
- Excessive negative thinking (Quality suffers. After all—why bother?)
- Loss of interest in jobs your employees used to enjoy (Productivity slows down or comes to a halt)
The key to all of this is day-to-day leadership, and its impact on employees and operations. The one surprising solution is the focus of a Harvard Business Review study. It is human warmth.
In the article Connect, Then Lead, Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy, along with Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger, discuss the influential leadership traits of warmth and strength. The study reveals that these 2 qualities alone account for more than 90% of the impressions we form about the people around us.
And, yes—warmth comes first.
The study found that trustworthiness is the first thing we look for in others, and warmth is the conduit to trust. In other words, “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.”
Put this in a corporate setting, and warmth has a huge impact on people. Collaboration, reliability, openness, cooperation, and motivation all greatly enhance performance and productivity.
I have found in my own leadership experience that without warmth, there is no trust, and without trust, there is no relationship. As I wrote in 7 Reasons Your Employees Hate You, you have to love people to be a successful leader. You have to be compassionate within to be effective without.
In this ever-changing world of work where stability and security are gone forever from our future, I believe it is more important than ever that leaders foster both through a sense of warmth and trust in the present. With trust also comes confidence—an essential element of well-being in people working in your company.
It’s not that strength of competence isn’t important—it is. It is a great compliment to warmth. However, as the study points out, “Leaders who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear, and along with it a host of dysfunctional behaviors. Fear can undermine cognitive potential, creativity, and problem solving, and cause employees to get stuck and even disengage.”
Fear is also what causes depression, so prioritizing warmth becomes even more critical.
If you’re a leader who’s a people person, you instinctively know this. You know how to talk—and listen to–your team. You enjoy sharing stories. You ask their opinion. You show genuine interest, understanding and appreciation. And when the going gets really rough, you acknowledge your team’s fears and doubts and give them the respect and attention they deserve.
If your business is depressed and not accomplishing its goals, take a good look within, and invest some time focused on your greatest asset—people. Give them leaders they can connect with and trust.
Trust me, it works.
Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan
Excerpts taken from Connect, Then Lead by Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger, copyright 2013 Harvard Business Review