In response to a discussion on the effect of the leader's mood on the performance of a company, a participant in a recent leadership workshop made this remark: “I cannot see how I am expected to be in a good mood for four quarters in a row.” The point is valid but can you, as a leader, afford to even entertain this thought? All the research on employee performance points to the contrary!
There is a French concept called “Noblesse oblige”, roughly meaning “with privilege comes duty.” It is a privilege to be in a leadership position but with it comes huge responsibility. As a leader you are consistently under the spotlight and your people are forever gauging your mood. Every morning, the first question your people ask is “What mood is he/she in today?” The perception of your closest assistant is broadcast throughout the organisation before you have even finished your first cup of morning coffee. Like it or not, it is your mood that sets the tone for how your people, and therefore your organisation, performs on a daily basis!
Research has shown that up to one third of a company’s financial results (measured by key business performance indicators such as revenue growth, return on sales, efficiency and profitability) are determined by the culture of the organisation. It is you, the leader, who dictates and drives the culture and you are directly responsible for maintaining a healthy climate within it.
We are all patently aware that how employees perceive their organisation’s cultural climate is attributable to the actions and behaviours of their leader. A leader creates the environment that determines people’s moods at the office and their mood, in turn, affects their level of commitment, their productivity, and the quality of their interactions with your customers, suppliers, and with each other.
Emotional highs and lows Reliving a positive encounter with your boss, perhaps he/she praised you on your performance, makes you feel great. You are on such an emotional high that you are eager to get out of bed the following morning and get back to the office, to once again give that man or woman the very best that you have to offer. It’s the emotional high that lingers and gives you renewed energy to be even more productive.
Think about the reverse - the aftermath or bitter aftertaste – of an emotional low. It results from you having been on the receiving end of some acrid remark from a leader in a negative mood, and lingers far longer than any emotional high. How does this affect your determination to overcome difficulties at work, to keep your emotions positively engaged, to want to continue to give that person, and the organisation for that matter, your very best efforts?
The knock-on effect Let’s face it, the more upbeat, energetic and enthusiastic the executive team is, the more co-operatively they work together, and therefore the better the company’s results will be. The converse is true - the longer a company is managed by an executive team that don’t get along well, the poorer the results produced by the company.
Perhaps nowhere is a leader's mood more crucial than in the service industry where employees in a bad mood can, without fail, adversely affect business. Studies in the retail industry have found that when managers are in an upbeat, positive mood, their moods spill over to their staff, positively affecting the staff’s performance and increasing sales.
A leader's bad mood is a source of infection - an emotional virus that eventually spreads across people, infecting entire units and even organisations. We can learn a thing or two from leadership in the military - imagine the effect on troop morale and energy that an “overwhelmed”, “anxious”, “worried” or “irate” leader would have. How about a leader who is plagued by uncertainty? Indecision is extremely contagious - it transmits itself to others, and can become a debilitating sickness throughout the organisation, with only one outcome – the organisation will grind to a halt.
The bottom line is that people take their cues from the leader’s state of mind.
Inconsistent means Unpredictable We could argue that the occasional bad mood, the occasional rant on a bad day, is excusable. Often, we refer to this type of behaviour with statements such as: “She can’t control her temper sometimes, but she is brilliant”, or, “He has an amazing mind but he has a tendency to shout at people when he’s stressed.” It is as though brilliance is an excuse for bad behaviour, and it may very well have to be in some environments - but the message it sends to people on the receiving end is one of inconsistency, which is an undesirable trait in any leader. We want our leaders to be predictable because there is comfort and safety in predictability. Predictability engenders trust and unpredictability elicits anxiety - even fear. Both these emotional outcomes affect performance and productivity.
Of course, no leader purposely sets out with an intention to spread a bad mood around but, as sure as there is gravity, events occur during the course of some days that can derail even the best among us. In attempting to counter your bad mood be careful not to put up a façade with false smiles and fake cheerfulness. Any fool can spot a non-genuine smile and we are all very adept at noticing when someone is humouring us.
Match the mood to the situation There are no easy solutions to managing emotions on an hourly basis in the often difficult circumstances in which leaders must operate and make decisions.
Whilst we accept that a leader’s mood has the greatest impact on performance when it is upbeat, we must also appreciate that a positive outlook must be in tune with reality - it doesn’t make sense for a leader to come across as flamboyantly cheerful and upbeat when sales are tanking or the business is going under. The most effective executives display moods and behaviours that match the situation at hand - with a healthy dose of optimism mixed in. They respect how other people are feeling - even if it is glum or defeated - but they also model what it looks like to move forward with hope and humour. Good leaders are dealers in “optimism”, “hope” and “humour” and they know when to play each of these cards.
Some recommendations In the context of managing your moods so as to elicit a high level of performance from your people, here are a few suggestions to consider:
1. Meeting behaviour
Take a hard look at your behaviour in meetings, which are often “cauldrons of emotion.” Do you set a positive tone right from the start, or do you impose your own “pace” based on how you feel at the moment? Aim for a calm, relaxed mood, and a consistent, positive approach.
2. Look for good in others
Long before leadership books were in vogue, Andre Malraux, French novelist and statesman, reminded us that one of the central objectives of a leader is to make others aware of the greatness that lies in them. Be known in your organisation as someone who is always on the lookout for what is right with people. It engenders good will and is good for business.
3. Read the Cultural Climate
Do you have a good reading of the cultural climate of your unit or organisation? Can you accurately sense what the emotional atmosphere is? Is it upbeat? Is it energised? Is it down or dejected? Do people seem slightly apprehensive and somewhat cautious in your presence? Can you ask a trusted assistant if the atmosphere changes when you are away? When you are adept at reading a situation you become adept at making the best of it.
4. Be pleasant and cooperative
Consider putting some effort into cultivating the prized quality of having a pleasant personality. It is almost impossible to have executive presence without it. Be cooperative, and always be on the lookout for ways to make other people look good, no matter what their position in the company. This is another example of how mood affects productivity.
5. Be emotionally attractive
Being emotionally attractive is directly linked to the concept of resonant leadership. Resonant leaders are individuals who have the ability to manage their own emotions and those of others in a manner that drives the success of their teams and organisations. They create a positive emotional tone in the organisation and engage and inspire people, possessing three core qualities: mindfulness, hope, and compassion. Consider making these a part of your arsenal as a leader.
6. Manage the emotions of change
Be particularly mindful of how you manage emotions if your organisation is undergoing change: how you handle emotions during these crucial times can help or hinder the change process. It’s a known fact that if the resistance to change is emotional, it is the hardest form of resistance to overcome. As the leader handling a change initiative, don’t avoid the emotions that accompany the change process. Set the mood and manage the emotions - or they will manage you.
Hone your intuitive ability, and listen to those hunches that hint to you that something in your behaviour and actions on bad days is having a ripple effect on others. Unfortunately, when we elect to focus on “rationality” we often intentionally dismiss our intuitive whispers. Intuition is a precious tool worth putting to far greater use.
As the leader, you have in your hand the switch that can control the intensity of engagement of the people who do the work in your organisation. It’s like being a director in a movie – his job is to set a mood so that the actor’s work can take place. A leader’s upbeat mood metaphorically oxygenates the blood of followers – it’s a transfusion into the corporate arteries and it may very well be one of the most potent contributions you can make as a leader.