New Words - Old Ideas

The July-August 2013 Harvard Business Review featured an article on Leadership entitled “How to Balance Competence and Warmth.” It’s a readable article if you have not been around leadership development over the years. As Cuddy, Kohut and Neffinger point out, “Although there is some disagreement about the proper labels for the traits researchers agree that they are the two primary dimensions of social judgment..” What are they? Their labels are warmth (how lovable and trustworthy) and competence/fearsome as the other dimension.

Back in the 1960s when I was a student, there was some great work done by Blake and Mouton entitled The Managerial Grid. Their two dimensions were concern for people and concern for production. That led to a series of managerial styles on their grid such as Produce or Perish on the production side and Country Club on the people side. There were three others that formed out the remainder of the grid as shown above.

I think this grid and its analysis is a more powerful way of looking at the two dimensions than the recent HBR article. Nevertheless, Cuddy, Kohut, and Neffinger do point out the balance (Team Based in the grid) is best when led by warmth. They also give you a few pointers on how to project warmth and strength/competence. On the warmth side, they suggest talking with a lower pitch and volume as you would to a friend; validate feelings; and smile by meaning it. The tips on strength are such things as conveying confidence by your posture and stance; move deliberately rather than wandering about. These are practical but not thoughtful theory.

Bottom line is that a lot of the ideas on leadership have been around for some time. Many times the earlier concepts are more powerful than the repackaging. On that front, I think Reddin’s repackaging of concern for people into “relationship oriented” and concern for production into “task oriented” gave more insight than warmth and competence but that’s just me. In the end, it never hurts to reinforce these basic two dimensions for leadership styles even with new words for old ideas.

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