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Managers Must Balance Warmth and Strength

One way managers can signal to employees that they care about them on a personal level is to remember the last conversation they had. That's interpersonal integrity.

Having interpersonal integrity is a powerful trait that concerns your behaviors toward others. At its most basic, it involves your ability to remember who people are, what they do, and what conversations you may have had with them. One leader at a manufacturing plant who was in one of my workshops seemed to be having a rough day, and I asked if I could help with anything. Through tears she told me that her cat was in the hospital and might be suffering from kidney failure. I said I was sorry; having a 21-year-old cat myself, as well as a 18-year-old dachshund (her 17-year old sister passed a year ago), both of whom are like children to me, I added that I hoped the cat would recover quickly.

Three months later I returned to the company for another workshop and ran into the leader with the cat. When I asked, she said her beloved pet had passed on. Two days later the firm’s HR leader stopped me in the hallway to say how much it meant to her colleague that I remembered our conversation months earlier. Having interpersonal integrity means you care about the people you work with and show it in your interactions with them.

But you can lose your perspective on this quality by placing inordinate weight on maintaining harmony and protecting people’s feelings, and doing so at the expense of holding people accountable and having the tough conversations in which leaders frequently need to engage. I’ve seen many leaders who let close relationships and personal feelings for someone interfere with doing what’s right for the business. To be sure, I’m not advocating that you’re all business, but rather that you maintain a balance between being an inclusive leader who acknowledges people’s contributions and shows concern for their well-being and one who can spell out business expectations and hold people to them. This potent blend of leadership styles can earn you the respect and the engagement of employees and spare you from being labeled a “pushover.”

COACHING TIP: Practicing self-awareness will help you perceive if your interpersonal integrity at work is in balance. Some questions to ask yourself include: Do people seem to feel comfortable sharing their personal issues with me? Do these conversations dominate our individual interactions? Do people try to take advantage of my kindness and compassion? Do I have trouble getting results from people? Do I impose consequences when people don’t follow through on their commitments, or do I seem to be having the same conversations over and over without getting results?

This is a short excerpt from Executive Presence, 2nd Edition.

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