Leadership Qualities: Balance Warmth and Competence to Make a Great First Impression

Do you have what it takes to be a leader? Strong leadership qualities are often touted on resumes or discussed in interviews. . But what does it really mean to be a leader? Lesson 9.2 in self-development app LIFE Intelligence teaches the importance of balancing warmth and competence for first impressions and continuing leadership in the workplace and everyday life.

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Top Leadership Qualities

Being a leader is no easy task. People are constantly looking up to leaders for guidance and should feel comfortable approaching them for that advice. Leaders also have to be able to communicate well with their peers, employees, others bosses, and the general public. Recent studies have shown that in politics and the workplace, the Big Five traits and the HEXACO model are strong indicators for the traits people look for in leaders (Aichholzer & Willman, 2020; Schreyer, 2021).

Big 5 Personality Traits:

The HEXACO model is also a strong predictor of leadership qualities with the trait honesty-humility recently being included alongside the Big 5 in recent studies. The Big 5 are directly linked to transformational leadership, or the ability to inspire change by motivating and empowering employees (Shreyer, 2021). The strongest correlations between these Big 5/HEXACO traits and leaderships were for the traits openness, honesty-humility, and agreeableness, according to the study done by Aichholzer & Willman (2020) focusing on politicians and citizens.

Zenger & Folkman (2014) surveyed 332, 860 bosses and their employees to see which leadership qualities have the greatest impact on a leader’s success. Many of these skills show an active use of the Big 5 and HEXACO traits.

Top 10 Leadership Qualities (Zenger & Folkman, 2014)

  1. Inspires and motivates others
  2. Displays high integrity and honesty
  3. Solves problems and analyzes issues
  4. Drives for results
  5. Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  6. Collaborates and promotes teamwork
  7. Builds relationships
  8. Displays technical or professional expertise
  9. Displays a strategic perspective
  10. Develops others
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Warmth vs. Competence: Two Axis of Leadership Qualities

Warmth and competence are the two major components of leadership qualities. The stereotype content model (SCM) defines these as the two dimensions we use to judge others: warmth (trustworthiness, friendliness, sociability) and competence (capability, assertiveness) (Fiske, 2018). Warmth is judged more quickly; from an evolutionary standpoint, this makes a lot of sense. It’s important to know immediately if a person is friend or foe and how they will initially act toward you and it is perceived warmth that predicts active behavior (Simon et al., 2020).

Balancing Warmth and Competence

The best leaders exhibit a balance of warmth and competence (Fiske, 2007). Competence is very important because you want to be able to prove yourself and show you can accomplish your job successfully. However, strategizing, analyzing, and leading projects is only one half of leadership. You also need the leadership qualities to work with a team, collaborate, and listen to others on these projects. That’s where warmth comes in! Having empathy can strengthen employee commitment and increase creativity (Fuller et al., 2021). There is also a term that literally blends the two, empathy competence (Fuller et al., 2021), defined as the following:

The leadership qualities highlighted in Zenger & Folkman’s study (2014) also show an active blend of warmth and competence. Take a look at Skill 6, “collaborates and promotes teamwork.” Collaboration shows a sense of warmth while the word “promotes'' indicates an assertiveness which aligns with competence. While Skill 4, “drives for results,” might lean more towards competence, Skill 7, “builds relationships,” is one that exhibits warmth.

First Impressions Matter

Subtle expressions of happiness bias later perceptions of happiness so it's important to enter the room with a warm, friendly expression and a firm handshake (Thierry, 2021). Also in line with this idea is a study done by Thierry and Mondloch (2021) which showed happy expressions to be rated more trustworthy, more likely to be voted as mayor, and more likely to be given a loan. That’s a lot of merit of leadership qualities based on one meeting!

Thinking specifically about the workplace, first impressions mean everything in an interview. If these small biases have such a strong impact on the evaluation of your leadership qualities, then it is important to keep in mind some of the things that will make the first impression a good one. Some of these are the leadership skills previously discussed: being honest about your skills and communicating them prolifically to future employers; willingness to both work with and lead others; and a drive to excel in any task handed to you.

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Develop Leadership Qualities with LIFE Intelligence

LIFE Intelligence is a leadership development app that easily helps you manage your life on a daily basis. LIFE Intelligence can be used individually, or as a team-building or employee development training. The app helps with managing emotions, developing self-awareness, and learning the psychology behind self, career, relationship skills.. With our busy schedules, it’s important to take time to invest in ourselves. LIFE’s two-part program involves both a mood-management system and a leadership course. Use the mood wheel to quickly jot down how you are feeling and why, then find exercises from career coaching or therapy to feel better immediately, whether frustrated with a colleague or facing a big decision. Or, use the comprehensive, 9-Mission (topic) course to understand the science of yourself and others. Read snippet studies and do some introspective journaling to change the way you react to difficult life scenarios. See Lesson 9 for a more in-depth coursework on the fundamentals of leadership qualities and how you can be the best influence for yourself and others.

Chiara Nicholas
June 21, 2021

Aichholzer, J., & Willmann, J. (2020). Desired personality traits in politicians: Similar to me but

more of a leader. Journal of Research in Personality, 88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2020.103990

Fiske, S. T. (2018). Stereotype Content: Warmth and Competence Endure. CURRENT

DIRECTIONS IN  PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE, 27(2), 67–73. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721417738825

Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., & Glick, P. (2007). Universal dimensions of social cognition: warmth

and competence. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(2), 77–83 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2006.11.005

Fuller, M., Kamans, E., van Vuuren, M., Wolfensberger, M., & de Jong, M. D. T. (2021).

Conceptualizing Empathy Competence: A Professional Communication Perspective. Journal of Business & Technical Communication, 35(3), 333–368. https://doi.org/10.1177/10506519211001125

Kubicka-Daab, J. (1989). Positivity and negativity effects in impression formation: Differences in

processing information about ability and morality dispositions. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 20(4), 295–307

Schreyer, H., Plouffe, R. A., Wilson, C. A., & Saklofske, D. H. (2021). What makes a leader? Trait

emotional intelligence and Dark Tetrad traits predict transformational leadership beyond HEXACO personality factors. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, 1. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01571-4

Simon, J. C., Styczynski, N., & Gutsell, J. N. (2020). Social perceptions of warmth and competence

influence behavioral intentions and neural processing. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 20(2), 265–275. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-019-00767-3

Thierry, S. M., Twele, A. C., & Mondloch, C. J. (2021). Mandatory First Impressions: Happy

Expressions Increase Trustworthiness Ratings of Subsequent Neutral Images. Perception, 50(2), 103–115. https://doi.org/10.1177/0301006620987205

Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2014). The Skills Leaders Need at Every Level. Harvard Business Review

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