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Connect, Then Lead

Stashed in: HBR, Leadership, @amyjccuddy

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In a piece in Harvard Business Review, “Connect, Then Lead,” Prof. Cuddy and two coauthors argue that anyone who projects strength before establishing trust risks creating a climate of fear. In that case, everything starts to go wrong. Creativity suffers. Problem-solving withers. Employees get stuck and disengage. A culture of wariness sets in, where people spend more time looking out for their own safety than trying to build success with others.

Establish trust first, and everything works out better, according to Cuddy and coauthors Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger, who run KNP Communications, a management coaching and skills-training firm in Washington, D.C.  In business, it’s easier to share information, plan and get things done. Most important, they argue, trusted leaders are better able to win other people over fully to a new way of thinking.

I’ve been struck lately by how many senior level jobs — paying $100,000 or more — now list empathy as a desired trait. Job listings at are sprinkled with examples such as these: Safeway looking for a director of consumer and shopper insights; the College Board wanting a data architect who combine technical expertise with high emotional intelligence, and CapGemini looking for consultants who can build empathy with key customers.

We’re living in a world where any field that’s defined by rule-based expertise is likely to be automated by ever-smarter software. That has big implications for white-collar jobs in the years to come. So where is the human touch uniquely valuable? As I argued in this post and this follow-up for LinkedIn’s Influencer program, the key has to be in our ability to strike up rapport with other people.

Consider the perspective that Northwestern Mutual CEO John Schlifske recently shared in a Forbes post.  His company still relies heavily on a network of people serving as trusted financial advisers, even though there’s plenty of low-cost software out there that can do a fine job of portfolio modeling and risk balancing.

The personal connection matters, Schlifske suggests, because financial advisers can provide the encouragement, reinforcement and chiding that clients may need to stay with the right program. In that sense, financial advisers are like personal trainers. They get to know us well enough that they reinforce our desires to do the right thing, even if our willpower sometimes wavers.

And as progressive teachers know, it doesn’t hurt to smile every now and then. Even if Christmas is still months away.


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