First impressions count in leadership

First impressions

There is a lot of truth in the old adage that you only get one chance to create a first impression. So it makes sense to do a little preparation before you go in to that first meeting as the leader of a team.

We might readily accept that people will judge us within a very short time of meeting us. But understanding what characteristics people use to judge us may come as a surprise. Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy makes the case in her book “Presence” that people judge us on 2 main criteria:

  1. Can they trust me (do I demonstrate warmth)?
  2. Can they respect me (do I demonstrate competence)?

Perhaps surprisingly, the most important is “can they trust me?”

“From an evolutionary perspective,” Cuddy says, “it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.”

As a leader starting with a new team, and armed with this knowledge, doing some appropriate preparation may enable your first meeting to create a positive, lasting impression.

  • Who is my audience?
  • What will they be looking for as a group from a new leader?
  • What do I want to say, or demonstrate, about my leadership style?
  • What will different team members want to see or hear from me?
  • How will I demonstrate enough warmth for people to trust me before I demonstrate competence to earn respect?
  • Who am I as a leader and as a person and what impression do I want to make?
  • How will I do this in an authentic way?

I’ve seen some great examples of “first meetings” (a new Country Manager in South America rapidly engaging staff by talking about his wife and children) and some less successful examples (an inexperienced new team leader trying to impress with a list of professional credentials justifying his appointment).

Read more from Amy Cuddy here. Doing appropriate preparation can make that first impression count in your favour!

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