Lead with Connection, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Why leading with your competence may not your greatest asset

We turn in to warmth faster than we tune in to competence

by Todd W. Hall, PhD • Rosemead School of Psychology

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SO PRESSURED ON A PROJECT that you focused solely on the tasks and forgot that you are working with human beings—people who have anxieties, fears, hopes, and dreams just like you? 

Screen-Shot-2015-02-22-at-11.20.55-AM-524x405Several years ago, I was in a meeting between two departments that were working on a project together. There had been several miscommunications and each department was frustrated with the other. The time had come for the key players from both departments to meet and try to resolve the problems. The leader of one department started the meeting out by blaming the other department and demanding they do a better job with their part of the project. Sure, he showed his “strength,” but the meeting did not go well from there. He was so concerned with competence, he forgot he was relating to people—not robots or computers. And as a consequence, it hurt the entire team’s performance on the project.

I do my own version of this all the time. I get so focused on my to-do list and my goals that I lose sight of the chance to connect to the people I work with, and to maybe help them in some small, but meaningful way.

Our work culture is so focused on results that make us look successful (smart and competent), that we often lose sight of the big picture. We often lose sight of the importance of connecting in our work relationships.

Connection, however, isn’t just a nice add-on at work; it’s a huge part of what makes work meaningful, and it’s critical for team performance.

A recent Harvard Business Review article, “Connect, Then Lead,” argues that connection or warmth is so important, in fact, that you should start with connecting before demonstrating strength or competence. The authors cite research by social psychologist Alex Todorov and colleagues, which found that the first thing we evaluate in others when we look at their face is their trustworthiness.

We tune-in to warmth faster than competence.

Here are three benefits of starting with connection.


If you start with connection, and focus on connection at work, you will create a much more meaningful work life. Why? Because we are born to connect and this basic drive doesn’t just disappear in our work life. In her recent book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington makes an important observation: “Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success?”

At the end of the day, people aren’t going to remember you for your titles, roles, and accomplishments, as important as those things are. They are going remember how you treated them, and how they felt about themselves when they were with you. They are going to remember you for how (well) you connected, because that is what’s most meaningful to them.

Now think about this from your point of view. When you take a step back from the deadlines, emails that need to be answered, and projects that need to be completed, what is most meaningful to you in your work life? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that somewhere near the top of the list is the relationships you’ve developed along the way. So don’t wait until the end of your career to start building meaningful relationships—start now…


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Todd-Hall-LOGO-2014-may-e1400621894177Todd W. Hall, PhD is Professor of Psychology, Director of the Institute for Research on Psychology and Spirituality, and Editor of the Journal of Psychology and Theology, at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, in the Los Angeles area. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Biola University, and a doctoral specialization in measurement and psychometrics from UCLA. Using his expertise in clinical psychology, spirituality, leadership, and organizational development, Dr. Hall helps leaders and organizations maximize their potential and effectiveness.

Lead With Connection; Free ebook by Dr. Todd Hall