What’s the Danger in Being a Benevolent Leader?

In your leadership, how do you seek influence?

Through strength?

Or warmth?

Research continues to mount that leading with warmth is the more effective leadership strategy.

Warmth builds trust. Trust allows people to let their guard down.  They’re open to the new, rather than defending the old.

Warmth promotes effective communication and connection.

Warmth shows people you have their best interests at heart.But is warmth ever the wrong way to go?

When might your desire to be benevolent lead you down the wrong road?

Consider Marjorie.Marjorie is an Executive Vice President for a Fortune 300 company.At a conference for 500 new associates last week, Marjorie was invited to share some of her leadership lessons with the group.

Marjorie told a story about coming back to work after the birth of her first child.  A mid-level executive at the time, Marjorie had been a rising star before she went off on maternity leave.It was now her first day back to work.  She was in a meeting with the Executive Committee.  The head of the ExCom spoke first:

Marjorie, we want to make sure that you can manage your new work/life balance. There’s a project with one of our midsize customers that you’ll easily excel at, and the good news is that it’s local, so you won’t have to travel away from your family.

Marjorie listened to the offer.

She then told the 500 of us in attendance what went through her head at the time:

Wow.  I appreciate that they’ve got this project all figured out.   I’m sure they meant well.  But did anyone reach out and ask me what I’d like to focus on upon my return?  Marjorie had already given her choice a lot of thought.

If I’m going to come back to this company and my role, I want professional challenges that will keep me growing and developing.  I want to continue as an “A” player with “A” projects to work on.

Marjorie’s leadership lesson to us that day:

Don’t assume that your well-meaning version of someone’s “best interests” is what they actually want.

Now, I realize that many people would love to have a workplace as flexible and accommodating as Marjorie’s. She even addressed this from the stage.

Take your good intentions and check in with your constituents before taking action.

Where have your good intentions as leader taken you down a road of wrong action? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below. 

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