We talk a lot about culture, which we can work to shape and involve everyone in. But at its core, much of culture comes down to how people interact. As a leader, what do you know about your employees, and what do they know about you? How well do you know them? How do your coworkers think? How do they communicate? What motivates them? Do they see you as warm and engaging? Do they see you as competent? Do they trust you? Ultimately, what kind of culture are you creating with your people?
Take a look at these examples of companies and executives that have caught on to the importance of knowing and trusting each other:
- The CEO of Campbell’s Soup writes 10-20 personal notes a day to his employees, handwritten about something specific that they have contributed. Over 10 years, that’s been more than 30,000 notes. And they only have 20,000 employees! All over the world where he goes for business, he sees his notes taped up in employee cubicles. He does this to let people know that he’s paying attention. To top it off, every day he puts on a pedometer and walking shoes and walks all over the office for at least thirty minutes, maybe an hour, just talking to people and engaging them. He says, “You can’t expect to perform at a high level unless your employees are personally engaged. And they’re not going to be personally engaged unless they genuinely believe that you are engaged in trying to make their lives better.”
- As Zappos grew, they created the Face Game, where every time they logged into the internal system, they would see a coworker’s face and have to guess their name and say how well they did or didn’t know them. It would give a short description of the person, and then continue on to their work.
- The CEO of Prezi insists on knowing his employees outside of the office context. He has a policy where he’ll go to dinner with any of them and talk about anything – as long as it doesn’t involve work.
- Every Friday at their TGIF party, Sergey, Larry, and other Google execs stand on a stage and candidly answer any question by an employee, because they believe trust is built on transparency and sharing.
- General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of US and International forces in Afghanistan, says that “personal relationships are the sinew which hold an organization together. . . A leader isn’t good because they’re right; they’re good because they’re willing to learn and to trust.” This is a four-star military general saying that engaging people is fundamental. He summarizes part of the daily-recited Ranger Creed as a promise that “no matter what happens, no matter what it costs me, if you need me, I’m coming.” Wouldn’t we all like to be on that kind of team?
Here’s why it’s important to get this right.
1. Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning comes second.
Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt (whose doctoral dissertation is titled, “Moral judgment, affect, and culture, or, is it wrong to eat your dog?”) has found that humans are far less rational than we are rationalizing. In other words, we are primarily intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning. We have automatic, instant reactions to things, and then we reason to defend those reactions. We are often led to believe that reason is the highest of our faculties, but in actuality our unconscious mind does most of our thinking. The human brain can take in millions of pieces of information every minute, of which it can be consciously aware of only about 40. Our unconscious processes – emotions, intuitions, sentiments, gut feelings – these are at the center of our thinking, handling the millions-minus-40 things to think about. They are the foundation of our reason because they tell us what to value.
Why this matters for business: Firstly, before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you. Intuitions, then strategic reasoning. Secondly, trust and cooperation aren’t instructions, they’re feelings. I can’t say, “trust me” and expect you will. Instead, I must appeal to your unconscious intuition.
2. What happens between two brains when they interact:
When we interact with people, our brains make snap judgments about them. Harvard Business School psychologist Amy Cuddy has found that we primarily gauge two characteristics: how lovable they are (warmth, communion, trustworthiness) and how fearsome they are (competence, strength, agency). With these two dimensions of social judgment, we answer two critical questions: “what are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “is he or she capable of acting on those intentions?” If someone is competent but not warm, that elicits respect and resentment – we want to cooperate or affiliate ourselves with that person, but we also feel vulnerable to them. If someone is warm but not competent, that elicits pity and lack of respect – we help people we pity, but when it becomes difficult or inconvenient, we ultimately neglect them. These two dimensions account for more than 90% of the variance in the positive or negative impressions we form of the people around us, and you can bet it’s happening all the time in the workplace. The catch is, these are unconscious snap judgements made in the amygdala and hippocampus, parts of the brain that control emotion, decision-making, and memory, but not language.
Why this matters for business: The parts of your brain that account for 90% of how you feel about the people around you are parts of the brain that are deeper than language or conscious thought. In business, this means that, more than your background, your message, or your ideas, how you interact with people matters – a lot.
3. Are you warm or are you competent?
Ideally, of course, the answer is both – but in moderation, like a well-balanced social judgment diet. Interestingly, though, our brains process warmth before competence. The first thing we look for in others is evidence of trustworthiness, based on their warmth. But when we present ourselves to others, we often mistakenly try to show our competence first, establishing strength before trust. We want to tackle challenges, work the longest hours, present innovative ideas in meetings. But it seems that warmth, at least right off the bat, matters much more than strength. In a study of 51,836 leaders, only 27 were rated in both the bottom quartile of likability and in the top quartile of overall leadership effectiveness. In other words, the chances that a manager who is strongly disliked will still be considered a good leader are about 1 in 2,000.
Why this matters for business: As a leader, you have to show warmth. Competence is assumed – warmth is what makes the difference. Strength, without a foundation of trust, elicits fear. Fear undermines cognitive potential, creativity, and problem solving, and causes employees to disengage. In short, people will obey, but they won’t follow, engage, take ownership, or help others. Warmth, on the other hand, facilitates trust and influence. Trust increases information sharing, collaboration, and creativity. When we trust people, we naturally combine talents and strengths and work tirelessly to seize opportunities. How can you show warmth? By knowing and caring about your employees.
To be continued in Part 2 . . .