Does "Trust" eat "Competency" for Breakfast?

If like me, the chilly evenings have kept you inside (and online) this week, you’ll probably have seen a Business Insider UK article doing the rounds on social media regarding Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy’s new book, “Presence”. Or, in its distilled social media snippet, the two criteria that people judge you on when they first meet you.

Previously on #bardenlearningcurve we’ve profiled some of Cuddy’s ground breaking work on body language, specifically on the power of “faking” body language to convey competence. There’s no doubt that as a leader, you have to take control of your body language as part of your tool box for success, in what is – let’s face it – a world dominated by decisions made on first impressions.

Just as body language is important, so is understanding the needs of your audience, and how what you do, say and present speaks to their needs – defining their first impressions of you, and often, the ensuing relationship’s success.

So what are these all-changing two criteria, if you haven’t read the article?

#1 Trust and respect: Or, the chicken and the egg

Trust and respect are both simple concepts for most leaders, and as you might agree, concepts we already know. But what perhaps we don’t fully appreciate is how the two work together, and actually, which one is perhaps more important in creating those all important first impressions.

As Cuddy points out, most people in the business world intuitively believe respect, or in the words of many, competence, is the more important factor. And we see this all the time. How many experts (especially sales professionals) have you had walk into your business extraordinarily keen to bestow the deepest depth of technical knowledge on you? Likewise, when have you won an argument through having the upper hand in the intelligence or knowledge stakes?
There’s no doubt, respect and competence, are highly valued. But are they everything? Think back to that example of the sales professional, and on to the outcome of their pitch. Let’s accept they were highly competent, and probably impressive, but did you buy? If not, why not? Maybe because there was something that didn’t click…or a lack of connection?

#2 Accept without trust, there will be no respect

This is where it comes back to Cuddy’s second, and on balance, more critical criterion: trust, or warmth. Cuddy argues that respect, or competence, can only win when it comes after trust, or warmth, is established. Without trust, competence can be fruitless, and may even alienate your audience, or team.

Bringing this back to your own role as a Finance Leader, you will be able to see exactly this dynamic in your own interactions with teams, and in your interactions with other leaders. Early on in your career you will have learnt that people skills, the ability to connect with non-finance people at all levels of a business on a social level, and the skill in speaking multiple business languages are critical to your success in effect positive change. But so often, you will see, “experts” in their field, usually in technical disciplines, who either overlook the necessity of social interaction, or come across as unapproachable, aloof or not interested in the niceties that are critical in building strong bonds with teams around them.

It’s a great point: simple, but at the root of so many leadership challenges. As a Consultant, I see everyday that the best Executives possess the ability to build trust in bucket loads, and they do this through constant interaction and the forging of purposeful connections with people at all levels of a business. Building trust. Time well spent, I think you’ll agree?


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