Picture this. Back in the early days of my executive career, I was all gung-ho and guns blazing. Confidence? Check. Competence? Double check. Warmth? Eh, let’s say it was a work in progress. The point is, I was more concerned about demonstrating my authority and expertise than forming real, meaningful connections with my team. Little did I know, I was missing a key ingredient in the recipe for effective leadership.

One fine day, during a team retreat, we found ourselves indulging in one of those brutally honest feedback sessions. You know the ones, where truths get told, feelings get hurt, and you leave with your ego feeling like it just went twelve rounds with Mike Tyson. Yeah, that one. And let me tell you, what I heard from my team that day shook my very foundations.

My leadership style, it turned out, was a tad…intimidating. My team respected my competence, yes, but there was a distinct lack of trust, a glaring absence of connection. It was like a sucker punch to the gut. I mean, who would’ve thought, right? Here I was, leading with strength, thinking I was doing it all right, only to realize I was going about it all wrong.

So, I made a decision. I resolved to switch my approach, focusing more on warmth, connection, and trust. Less Sun Tzu, more Mister Rogers, if you will. And let me tell you, it was a game-changer. But we’ll circle back to that.

First, let’s debunk a little myth. You’ve probably heard of this dude, Machiavelli, who reckoned that it’s better for a leader to be feared than loved. And for the longest time, we’ve bought into this idea that leadership is about projecting strength, fostering an aura of invincibility, of being the toughest SOB in the room.

But here’s the kicker. Research by some smart folks at Harvard Business School (Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger) suggests otherwise. They argue that leaders should begin not with fear, but with ‘love’ – or more precisely, trust and understanding. A radical idea, you might think. But stick with me, folks, because we’re about to dive deep into why this is crucial and how it can transform your leadership style.

The Dangers of Leading with Strength Alone

As I’ve mentioned earlier, we’re living in a world where strength and competence are often deemed the be-all and end-all of effective leadership. Leaders today approach their roles like armored knights going into battle, clad in their shiny armor of qualifications and expertise. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s important to be good at what you do. Hell, it’s crucial. But it’s not everything.

Here’s why: Leading with strength alone can have unintended consequences, not least of which are fear, resentment, and envy among your team. You heard me right, envy. Like, “Why is the boss always acting like a know-it-all?” or “Doesn’t the boss realize there are other ways to do things?” Kind of sounds like high school drama, doesn’t it?

That’s not all. When you put on the “strength-only” spectacle, it creates an emotional distance between you and your team. People start seeing you as a boss, not a leader. There’s a difference there, folks. A boss instills fear; a leader fosters respect. And while fear might keep your employees in line, it won’t inspire them to give their best.

And then there’s the fact that strength-based leadership can unintentionally stifle innovation. When people are too afraid to voice their thoughts and ideas for fear of backlash or rejection, creativity dries up faster than a puddle in the Sahara.

Now, here’s where a bit of humor comes in. Picture this: A team meeting where the boss is trying to assert their dominance by shooting down every idea that doesn’t align with their own. It’s like watching a Godzilla movie, only instead of a city, it’s creativity and morale that are getting trampled. Let’s be honest, that’s not a pretty sight, is it?

I mean, can you imagine the aftermath? Instead of a motivated, engaged team, you’ll have a bunch of disgruntled employees who’d probably prefer a root canal over another team meeting. Not exactly the kind of environment conducive to productivity and innovation, huh?

So yes, while strength is a crucial attribute for a leader, using it as your only tool can do more harm than good. It’s like trying to build a house using only a hammer. It might get you somewhere, but without other tools, you’re likely to end up with a pretty shoddy house.

Leading effectively requires a balance between strength and warmth, competence and connection. It’s a tough balance to strike, no doubt. But as I’ve learned from my own experience, and as research corroborates, it’s absolutely worth the effort.

The Power of Warmth and Trust

Now, let’s talk about the good stuff – warmth and trust. That fuzzy feeling you get when you’re in the presence of a leader who doesn’t just see you as a cog in the machine, but as a valuable member of a team, a person with ideas, opinions, and feelings. That’s warmth. And trust? It’s the glue that holds a team together, that fosters loyalty, respect, and above all, a sense of safety and belonging.

Leading with warmth is like opening a door, not just to your office but to dialogue, interaction, and understanding. It’s about listening, really listening, to your team, their ideas, their concerns, their aspirations. When you do this, a beautiful thing happens. You foster an environment where trust can grow and thrive.

You see, trust isn’t something you can demand or buy. It’s something you earn. It’s the product of consistent actions that show your team that you respect them, value their input, and have their best interests at heart. And when you’ve earned their trust, they become more receptive to your ideas, more open to taking risks, and more committed to achieving shared goals.

Here’s the fun part. A trusting team is a fertile ground for great ideas. When people feel safe, heard, and valued, they’re more likely to contribute their thoughts and ideas. They’re not afraid of being shot down or ridiculed. On the contrary, they feel encouraged to think outside the box, to challenge the status quo, and to innovate.

Now, let’s do a little comparison, shall we? On one hand, we have the strength-led team, where fear reigns supreme, creativity is a scarce commodity, and team meetings are about as fun as watching paint dry. On the other hand, we have the warmth-led team, buzzing with energy, brimming with ideas, and where team meetings are productive, engaging, and even, dare I say it, enjoyable.

The difference is clear as day, isn’t it? And all it takes is a shift in focus from strength and competence to warmth and trust. Now, this doesn’t mean discarding strength completely. Far from it. As I mentioned earlier, it’s about striking a balance, a delicate dance, if you will, between strength and warmth.

So, how does one achieve this seemingly Herculean task? Glad you asked. Shall we proceed?

IV. The Balancing Act: Combining Warmth and Strength

We’ve arrived at the tricky part now, folks. The delicate act of balancing warmth and strength in leadership. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Gee, thanks for the tip, but how the heck do I do that?” I hear you. It ain’t easy, but I promise you, it’s doable.

Let’s take a quick detour back to our dear old friend, Machiavelli. This guy said it’s damn near impossible to be both loved and feared as a leader. Well, no offense to the guy, but I beg to differ. You see, it’s not about being feared; it’s about being respected. And respect is born out of a blend of both warmth and strength.

First, let’s get something clear. Strength in leadership isn’t about being a hardass, or having an iron fist. It’s about demonstrating competence, setting clear expectations, and holding people accountable. It’s about making tough decisions when needed, but also being fair and just.

Warmth, on the other hand, is about empathy and understanding. It’s about showing your team that you value them not just for their skills and contributions but for who they are as individuals. It’s about making them feel seen, heard, and appreciated.

Now, finding the right mix of these two isn’t about following a strict formula. It’s more like making a soup. You adjust the ingredients based on taste, on what feels right. Maybe one situation calls for more strength, another for more warmth. The key is to be flexible and adaptive.

What you’re aiming for is a leadership style that feels authentic to you, and beneficial to your team. You want your team to feel comfortable approaching you with ideas or concerns, but also confident in your ability to guide them and make sound decisions. You want them to respect you, not fear you.

This balancing act, folks, is more art than science. It requires self-awareness, empathy, and a genuine desire to lead not just with your head, but with your heart as well. It’s a challenging path, but one that leads to a team that is motivated, innovative, and loyal.

So, ready to give it a shot? In the next section, we’ll go over some practical tactics to help you navigate this journey. Ready to dive in?

Practical Tactics for Leaders: Projecting Warmth and Strength

Now, let’s put on our practical hats and get down to brass tacks. How can you, as a leader, effectively project both warmth and strength? Well, brace yourself for some groundbreaking tips coming your way.

First off, lead with empathy. Now, I’m not saying you should start every meeting with a group hug (although that might not be a bad idea, pandemic allowing). What I’m saying is, make an effort to understand your team’s perspectives, challenges, and aspirations. Show genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings. This not only shows warmth but also strengthens their trust in you.

Second, communicate effectively. And by that, I don’t mean just talking, but listening, too. Share your vision, your goals, and your expectations clearly and consistently. But also make room for your team’s input. Encourage open dialogue and feedback. Remember, communication is a two-way street.

Third, be reliable. Follow through on your commitments. Show your team that you’re someone they can depend on. This demonstrates strength and competence, and also builds trust. If your team can’t trust you to keep your word, how can they trust your leadership?

Next, show appreciation. Recognize your team’s efforts and contributions. Show them that their work matters, that they matter. This not only boosts their morale and motivation but also fosters a culture of respect and appreciation.

Lastly, but most importantly, be authentic. Don’t try to be a leader you’re not. Don’t put on a facade of strength if it’s not genuine. Don’t feign warmth if it’s not in your nature. Be true to yourself, and lead in a way that aligns with your values and personality. Authenticity is magnetic, and people will naturally be drawn to you.

Now, these are not magical cures that will instantly transform you into a phenomenal leader. Leadership is a journey, not a destination. It requires constant learning, growth, and adaptation. But with these tactics, you’re on the right path.

Remember, leading with warmth and strength isn’t about trying to be loved or feared. It’s about inspiring respect, trust, and loyalty in your team. It’s about being a leader your team wants to follow, not one they have to. So, go out there, shake things up, and lead like you mean it. What’s the worst that could happen?


Alright, my friends, it’s time to bring it home. We’ve taken a wild ride through the world of leadership, debunking myths, unpacking misconceptions, and breaking down the crucial balance of warmth and strength. If you’ve made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re obviously serious about your leadership journey, and that’s something to be proud of.

I want you to remember one thing: Leading with warmth isn’t about being a soft touch or a pushover. It’s about building trust, fostering openness, and creating an environment where your team feels valued and heard. It’s about showing up as a human being, not just a boss. Warmth is your secret weapon, and when paired with strength and competence, it can transform your leadership.

Strength, on the other hand, isn’t about being an iron-fisted tyrant. It’s about demonstrating competence, providing clear direction, and creating a sense of security within your team. It’s about making tough decisions when necessary, and holding yourself and others accountable.

Now, this balance of warmth and strength isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. It’s going to look different for each of you, and that’s okay. The key is to find your own unique blend, your own leadership flavor that’s authentically you.

And remember, this isn’t just theory; it’s a living, breathing practice. It requires awareness, intention, and yes, sometimes, a little bit of courage. But trust me, the rewards are well worth it. Not only will you build a more engaged and productive team, but you’ll also grow as a person and a leader.

So, are you ready to buck the status quo, throw out the outdated playbook, and lead with warmth and strength? Are you ready to ditch the fear, amp up the love, and blaze your own leadership trail? I hope so. Because the world needs more leaders like that. Leaders like you.

It’s been a pleasure sharing these insights with you, and I hope they serve you well on your leadership journey. Remember, love in leadership isn’t a weakness, it’s the most potent strength one can harness. Now, go forth and lead like a badass. I can’t wait to see what you’ll accomplish.

About the Author: Geoffrey Byers
Geoffrey is one of the world's foremost Designers. He is also a Serial Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, and Mad Scientist. Hypothesis-Driven experimentation is his love language.