Managerial Warmth? We don’t really talk about it that much. Or not using those words. 

But engagement studies have shown that employees are happier at work when their manager has 1) the competency to lead them and 2) the interpersonal skills to show them they care about them. An employee will want to do better, and will want to do more, if they know their manager is ‘in their corner.’ And creating a warm, easy-going relationship helps facilitate this feeling. 

It is never a ‘one size fits all’ situation – some employees will require or expect more warmth than others because of their personalities. A great manager can learn to assess this and adapt to match employee’s needs as well as the situation. Some employees might like their manager to pat them on the back and say, ‘Hey, bud, how are you doing today?’ while others may take this as too personal. So it is important to determine what degree of warmth works best with each individual. If some want to keep their distance a bit more, that needs to be respected. It is up to the manager to assess each employee and ask,”What can I do to get across to THIS individual that I’ve got their back?”

Managers still need to help set limits and parameters, but here is where we can take a lesson out of a parental guidebook. Great parents set limits and help their kids see right from wrong, while also helping them become independent and grow. And great parents are also warm and loving while doing so. Now, I’m not saying a manager needs to be just as loving as a parent, but employees should be able to tell that their manager cares about them. Cares about their growth and career. Cares about helping them succeed. And cares enough to build a trusting relationship so the employee can discuss issues and know their manager is there to help resolve them if needed. 

One way to show warmth is by making the choice to go from a ‘reprimanding manager’ to one who shows curiosity and empathy when an employee does something wrong. The employee typically already knows they ‘messed up.’ So having someone yell at them about it doesn’t help. The manager might be frustrated because the employee’s actions reflect poorly on them, but now is the time to use it as a teachable moment – what did we learn and how can this mistake be avoided next time? Using this more ‘understanding’ approach will show the employee that you care enough to help them do better. 

Research shows the effective way to influence and successfully lead is to begin with warmth – this facilitates trust and effective communication and connection. This trust is important to build the foundation and will help build commitment. After showing warmth, the manager must quickly show his or her competency – to demonstrate they have earned the right to lead. 

In other words, when you are competent but not warm, employees will respect you up until you make a mistake. And then they will be quick to turn on you because if you don’t care about them, why should they care about you? If you are warm but incompetent, you will be ‘liked’ but not respected, and not seen as an effective leader. This will make you marginalized and neglected as a person who cannot add value. The most successful leaders have both a high level of competency AND a way to connect with people that builds commitment and trust. 

Wishing you a lifetime of great choices!


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