CONSIDER these questions first . . .
- Do you know that your mood and behavior affect performance?
- How do you work on attaining the consistent, emotionally intelligent leadership behaviors that breed success in yourself and others?
- How often do you look for good in others?
Many people would agree with me that the way their boss behaves affects the way they do their job.
Whether irritable or unpredictable, upbeat or encouraging, the range of moods to which leaders expose their followers, is generally viewed as having the potential to encourage or inhibit performance.
In a well written research on moods by Goleman et al entitled ‘Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance’ in the Harvard Business Review of December 2001, the writers demonstrate that this generally accepted truth has empirical support too. In the research spanning over a two-year study, it suggests that a leader’s mood can actually impact directly on organisational performance; to the extent that an organization’s success may actually depend upon its leader having the right kind of moods.
Research On Mood Management
The notion that a leader’s mood affects their staff and, consequently, their organization’s performance, is not new. A number of studies establish a causal link between a leader’s mood and a follower’s performance. Alice Isen of Cornell University, for instance, established that a positive working atmosphere contributes to enhanced mental efficiency, higher information intake and comprehension, and more flexible thinking.
Mood management is defined by our ability to keep powerful emotions in check so that we can make rational decisions that are in our and others’ best interests. The better we are able to stay calm under pressure, the less likely we will overreact and make poor decisions in the workplace.
MOODS are typically described as having either a positive or negative valence. In other words, people usually talk about being in a good mood or a bad mood. People seem to experience a positive mood when they have a clean slate, have had a good night sleep, and feel no sense of stress in their life. Those experiencing negative moods may have important implications for mental and physical well-being. Thus, negative mood has no specific start and stop date. It can last for hours, days, weeks, or longer. Negative moods can also manipulate how individuals interpret and translate the world around them, and can also direct their behavior.
Mood also differs from temperament or personality traits which are even longer-lasting.
The Impact Of A Leader’s Mood
Leaders’ moods are important because of their prominent position within the company or organization. The effect is most apparent in open-plan offices shared by the leader; but the bad mood can also spread throughout the organization by first infecting those with whom the leader deals directly, and then moving downwards as the various subordinates interact.
Goleman et tal’s research demonstrates that when leaders are in a happy mood they galvanize good performance and the rest of the office smiles with them. When a leader is in a happy mood:
- They think more positively about their own goals.
- They are more creative.
- They make better decisions
- They are instinctively more helpful to those around them.
On the negative side, when a leader is often in a negative mood:
- They are rarely successful.
- They have a negative influence on their followers, who seldom reach their potential.
- They will often end up being blamed for poor results.
However, the research points out that in a negative situation, if the leader can recognise the effect they are having early enough, the impact may not be irreversible.
Understanding The Human Brain
A mood is an emotional state and lies with the human brain. The region of the brain which manages emotions, termed the limbic area, is commonly described as operating on an ‘open-loop’ system. Unlike the self-regulating nature of a ‘closed-loop’ system, the limbic area requires external stimulation to operate. Moods are created based on these external influences. The open-loop system explains why, for instance, a sustained period of severe stress affects isolated individuals far more than socially active ones, or why intensive care patients with a loved one constantly nearby are more likely to recover than those without.
It also accounts for the feelings of warm affection shared between couples. Open-loop also accounts for a measurable harmonisation in physiological characteristics, such as heart-rate, between two friends deep in conversation. Finally, in social environments, such as an office or meeting room, individuals rapidly attune to each other’s physiological and emotional states.
A study by Bartel and Saavedra showed astounding results that monitored seventy work teams in various industries and discovered that, when working closely together, the teams soon began to share moods, both positive and negative.
It is quite interesting to note that negative moods are not as significant in their effect as positive ones. Put differently, positive moods improve performance more than negative moods which cause performance to deteriorate. Yet, a good mood in itself does little; it has to be the right kind of good mood. At a time of crisis, for example, a smiling, upbeat mood would simply be insensitive. Successful resonance should enable leaders to blend their mood into situations as they present themselves.
Goleman et tal attributes the problem, through leaders who have little idea or fail to notice what resonance, if any, they have with their subordinates. The study authors call this, ‘CEO disease’; namely, a complete lack of awareness by leaders of how they are regarded within the company or organization they lead. This arises not through a lack of concern about how people perceive them – most leaders are extremely keen to find this out. Rather, they mistakenly presume both that they are themselves capable of discerning people’s perception of them; and that negative impressions of them will be communicated directly to the leader.
The CEO Disease can also lie with subordinates who hesitate to tell their boss exactly what they think for fear of being penalised. Less evident is that asking people to comment on how a leader’s emotional disposition affects their work is seen as too unconventional and vague.
The implication is that primal leadership demands more than putting on a game face every day. It requires an executive to determine, through reflective analysis, how his/her emotional leadership drives the moods and actions of the organization, and then, with equal discipline, the need to adjust his/her behavior accordingly.
The solution instead is rather more complex. The Harvard team explain that a person’s emotional skills, while having a genetic component, are significantly influenced by one’s personal life experiences. These in turn build on each other, to the extent that a set pattern of behaviour is difficult to alter. As the authors point out:
‘And therein lies the rub: The more we act a certain way – be it happy, depressed or cranky – the more the behavior becomes ingrained in our brain circuitry, and the more we will continue to feel and act that way.’
The solution proposed by the Harvard team is a five-stage process designed in effect to ‘rewire the brain towards more emotionally intelligent behaviours.’
They outline it as follows:
1. Who do I want to be?
This involves imagining an ideal version of yourself. The team asked leaders to imagine themselves eight years ahead as an effective leader, taking into account how they would feel, what they would do, and who would be there. This exercise encouraged them to envisage how their working and emotional lives might change if they had a different outlook.
2. Who am I now?
This step requires leaders to begin to see themselves as others do. A small element of ‘ego-defence’ is inevitable, and indeed is a useful way of remaining enthusiastic and positive when making difficult decisions. Yet as the team suggest, ‘self-delusion should come in very small doses.’ They suggest remaining continually receptive towards criticism, even going as far as actively inviting negative feedback.
Interestingly, the team also stress that it is important not to focus simply on the leader’s perceived weaknesses. Having an accurate picture of their main strengths provides the motivation and focus for them to concentrate on counteracting their weaknesses.
3. How do I get from here to there?
The Harvard research team suggest that the learning process might take the form of the leader requesting written, anonymous feedback from every team member about their mood and its affect on the team.
Other techniques might include a weekly diary in order to compare, week by week, the leader’s self-perception with that of those around him, or the appointment of one or two carefully chosen colleagues to act as both coach and devil’s advocate.
It must be understood that any change will be gradual and will only be successful if the leader’s increased state of awareness is fairly constant. Paying more attention to new methods of behaviour in itself acts as stimulation for the breaking of former habits and the experimentation with new ones.
4. How do I make change stick?
As already suggested, altering ingrained behaviour patterns requires continual rehearsal. But modifying one’s actions in practice is not the only way that these patterns can be altered. This can actually occur merely by visualising a different method of behaviour: ‘imagining something in vivid detail can fire the same brain cells actually involved in doing that activity…So to alleviate the fears associated with trying out riskier ways of leading, we should first visualize some likely scenarios.’ This can be done anywhere when the leader has some spare time, e.g. while travelling to work, or when waiting for colleagues to arrive at a meeting.
5. Who can help me?
The final stage involves forming what the Harvard team term ‘a community of supporters.’ They cite an executive learning programme carried out by Unilever where managers came together in regular learning groups, initially to discuss career and leadership ideas. This gradually evolved as trust built up between the executives to include frank discussion about each others’ technique and performance. The advantage of such an approach is that ‘people we trust let us try out unfamiliar parts of our leadership repertoire without risk.’
Thus, it is important that once you are aware of an emotion, you can trace its cause and change it. Left unchanged, an extended period of emotion becomes your “mood.” A very extended mood can also develop into a character trait. Some people remain trapped in a chronically negative mood which then affects their state and subsequently inﬂuences others.
Surely, the ability to manage your own state is fundamental to managing yourself and to inﬂuencing the state of another person. Given the high probability of disappointment, failed expectations and loss in the world, we are vulnerable to being pushed into a negative state unless we have learned to self-manage.
THE BAD NEWS is that a leader’s mood affects corporate results.
THE GOOD NEWS is that moods, while certainly ingrained in our individual psyches, are not fixed there permanently.
THUS, with recourse to the proper techniques, unproductive mood swings and harmful fluctuations of temperament can be reduced; to the good of a leader, staff members and organisation alike.
I am sure I didn’t ruffle up a few feathers.
Good luck in all your endeavours to improve your image.