2 hidden ingredients for leadership success CMOs need to know

Gerard Penna

  • Leadership advisor, coach
Gerard Penna is a leadership advisor and coach to CEOs, boards, billionaires, and senior leaders. He teaches in diverse settings from desert mining camps to hi tech startups and sky-scraping boardrooms. He is the author of Xtraordinary: The Art and Science of Remarkable Leadership, host of the Xtraordinary Leaders Podcast, and Founder of Xtraordinary Leaders; a training company deeply committed to lifting the bar on leadership and leadership development.

Your success as a senior marketing professional has much in common with your success as a leader. Both marketing, and leadership activities, depend on building trust, encouraging action, and reliably fulfilling promises that have been made.  

Likewise, just as the marketing discipline has benefited from powerful scientific insights in human psychology over the last few years, so too has the field of leadership. Perhaps none more so than the revelation that warmth and strength, two critical yet often hidden ingredients, have a disproportionate impact on your ability as a leader to perform those critical functions.   

Cultivating trusting relationships, mobilising people to actively support your agenda, and reliably fulfilling your commitment to produce results are only achievable when both warmth and strength are present.  

Hidden ingredients  

In simple terms, warmth describes a persons’ orientation toward connecting with other people. High-warmth individuals are friendly, open, and responsive to others. Strength describes an individuals’ tendency to exert influence on the world around them through competence and action. High-strength individuals are agentic, proactive and outcome oriented.  

While both warmth and strength play a part in every individuals’ makeup, many of us display a tendency towards one or the other depending on the situation we are in, our genetic makeup, and the life experiences that have shaped us.     

These two characteristics have excited social psychologists for nearly seven decades because they are implicated in many facets of our human experience. Through numerous studies, they’ve been found to predict how you see yourself, how you think, your personality, how you perceive others, what is likely to stress you, your coping mechanisms, and many other aspects of your existence.   

Despite their impact however, the role of warmth and strength in our daily lives remains largely unexamined by most people, in much the same way that a fish is unaware of the physical properties of the water in which it lives, or is able to explain how it propels itself through the water. It just does.   

As a result, warmth and strength are able to play a hidden yet nonetheless powerful role in how we perceive and interact with each other, especially in the formation of leader-follower relationships. In fact, your ability to consciously master the balance of warmth and strength in your leadership will play a major role in your short and long-term success.  

Establishing trust  

Initial impressions of a persons’ warmth and strength are formed in milliseconds, in less time than it takes to blink an eye. These non-conscious judgements exert a powerful effect on our willingness to trust a person, especially if they are a leader. Warmth judgments answer the question ‘can I trust your intentions?’ Strength judgments answer the question ‘can I trust your competence?’ Both questions require an affirmative response if we’re to trust and engage with someone else's leadership. Without that trust, we are more likely to be cautious or reluctant in our interactions with them.  

Be aware though, that these initial perceptions of warmth and strength are usually based on limited data such as facial expressions, body language and vocal characteristics. They are also very hard to reverse, with initial impressions being quite resistant to change. This means that you should pay careful attention to showing up with both warmth and strength should you wish to cultivate perceptions of trustworthiness.  

Mobilising support  

The role of warmth and strength in leadership success extends well beyond these first few moments. In fact, your ability to engage and mobilise others to support your leadership agenda is directly related to your warmth-strength profile.   

Research by TEDx sensation and social scientist, Amy Cuddy, showed people may actually go out of their way to sabotage your leadership aspirations and agenda, should you lack sufficient warmth. Dr Cuddy and her colleagues demonstrated that an absence of strength will also contribute to lower levels of support from others. In fact, the only combination that produced high levels of active support and engagement was where both warmth and strength were present in the leaders’ profile.  

Delivering results reliably  

Warmth and strength also play a central role in producing better business results. To establish their role in business success, I correlated my own studies of the warmth and strength of thousands of leaders with the research of other leadership experts such as Jim Collins and Bill Torbert.  

I found warmth and strength to be a golden thread that ran through all the examples of leadership that consistently produced better business results over the longer term. This is because leaders who are both warm and strong are able to cultivate sustainable high-performance cultures around them, delivering more reliably on the promises made to shareholders, customers and employees alike.   

Warmth and strength clearly play a distinctive role in leadership success, so it pays to elevate awareness of your own warmth-strength profile should you wish to build trust, mobilise followers, and achieve sustainable high-performance results.  


Tags: business leadership, CMO role, marketing leadership

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