Leaders Succeed with Warmth and Competence

Topic(s): leadership, personality
Publication: Harvard Business Review (July – August 2013)
Article: Connect, Then Lead
Authors: A.J.C. Cuddy, M. Kohut, J. Neffinger
Reviewed by: Megan Leasher

What makes a successful leader? In a Harvard Business Review article (Cuddy, Kohut, & Neffinger, 2013) the authors rely on social psychology research to draw lessons on leadership effectiveness. They identify two key leadership attributes that people are first drawn to when judging others: warmth and competence. They suggest that warmth and competence are not only the primary factors in how we judge others, but these two attributes alone account for a vast majority of what we use to form impressions of others.

So how can we apply this to successful leadership? Leaders should work to ensure that they are both warm and competent and that others accurately judge them as such.


When we judge others’ warmth, we determine how open we can be with them, how much we can trust them, and how connected we feel to them. Leaders can project warmth by sharing personal stories, speaking in a confiding tone, validating common view points, demonstrating empathy, and offering sincere, genuine smiles.

When we judge the competence of leaders, we are evaluating their strength, ability to act, and likelihood for success. Leaders can project competence by truly feeling in command, speaking with confidence, standing up straight, and moving deliberately and precisely.


How do warmth and competence interact? More importantly, how should these leadership characteristics interact to make an effective leader? The research suggests that leaders should always present warmth first, not only because it is judged first, but also because it contributes more significantly to peoples’ evaluations of others. Putting warmth at the forefront builds trust and facilitates information exchange, which can allow others to be open to new ideas and therefore judge the leader’s competence positively. On the other hand, failure to demonstrate warmth has the ability to undermine leadership and alienate employees.


Cuddy, A. J. C., Kohut, M., & Neffinger, J. (2013). Connect, Then Lead. Harvard Business Review, 91, 54–61.