Are you in a good mood? If you are a leader, I certainly hope so. That’s because moods, like emotions, are contagious. People pick up on and attune themselves with the moods of leaders. When leaders are persistently anxious, frustrated, or depressed, for example, such qualities come to define the culture and climate of our organizations. Any thought that people will rise above the mood of their leaders is largely an illusion and certainly an exception to the rule. Most of the time, leaders set the tone. It behooves us, then, to set a tone that will lead to organizational success. And moods cannot be faked. Self-management is therefore a key work of leadership. Read on if you want to buff up your own mood and set yourself apart as a leader.
In her excellent book on leadership in schools, Trust Matters, my wife, Megan, makes the following distinction between emotions and moods: emotions are intense affective states tied to particular events while moods are less intense, generalized affective states that are not tied to particular events. Emotions are therefore more transitory, in-the-moment feelings while moods tend to persist over time and even come to define a leader’s personality. While some leaders are known as generally upbeat and optimistic, for example, others are known as cynical and suspicious.
What tends to be your mood as a leader? The notion that moods don’t make much of a difference, if that was ever widely held, has now been definitively discredited. Moods not only matter, they make a huge difference in terms of mission-critical elements such as productivity, creativity, and quality. If we hope to get things done as leaders, then managing our moods is a huge part of the task at hand.
That does not mean that great leaders never have negative emotions. When things happen that are frustrating, disappointing, or confusing, for example, then it’s not only appropriate, it’s helpful to get in touch with our frustration, disappointment, or confusion. Pretending otherwise causes problems, both psychologically and organizationally.
Things happen, and when those things interfere with our core commitments, values, and needs, it is only natural to experience negative emotions. Acknowledging those feelings and empathizing with their underlying causes are important parts of the healing process and to our own authenticity as leaders.
Unfortunately, many leaders don’t know how to do that. We fear that people will think we are weak if we admit to having negative emotions, especially emotions such as fear or uncertainty, and so we walk around with the proverbial “stiff upper lip” • acting tough, so as to not let others know what we are really feeling. Male leaders have been especially prone to such pretenses.
Putting on airs of invulnerability may well have been the expectation of leaders in the early stages of the industrial revolution, when machine metaphors were often used to describe organizations, but that is no longer the metaphor and no longer the approach taken by great leaders. Organizations today are viewed in organic terms, with the different parts being viewed as members of one body which communicate continuously on a 360-degree basis.
The metaphor of the human body is an apt one for today’s organizations. Every part of the body knows what the brain is doing and vice-versa, even before we become able to consciously articulate what’s going on. That’s because the nervous system is distributed throughout the body, communicating instantaneously as to its physiological and affective states. If you don’t understand what that means, stub your toe. You’ll get a sense of just how fast that nervous system works.
Organizations are no different. The people in them may look like separate and distinct individuals, but we are connected on many deep and profound levels. One of the most basic of those levels is what cognitive behavioral neuroscientists refer to as “emotional contagion.” Without saying a word, emotions have a way of quickly spreading from one person to the next.
And that phenomenon is not limited to human beings. On the contrary, it is a universal attribute of animals with brain stems and Limbic systems. One bird gets spooked and the whole flock flies away. One deer hears a noise and the whole herd cocks their ears. It doesn’t take much before an organization will pick up on and attune itself to the emotions of its leaders and members.
We saw that in the United States, and around the world, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 tragedies. The emotions were palpable and they galvanized people with a sense of shock, sadness, and solidarity. People expressed those emotions and, as a result, were able, however slowly, to move on. That’s the way emotions are supposed to work: trigger, contagion, understanding, release.
Great leaders are not afraid to go through those stages with people. Unfortunately, too many leaders get stuck at the point of contagion. Emotions are stimulated by a particular event, but instead of being released through empathy and resolved through understanding they get perseverated into all-encompassing moods. Such leaders may think we are just being realistic, prudent, or firm, but the vibes we are putting out communicate a far more difficult and dangerous dynamic.
In Trust Matters, Megan quotes Solomon and Flores as identifying seven “bad” moods that leaders would do well to avoid. To that list, I would add at least one more:
- Entitlement (“I must get my way.”)
- Distrust (“I have to watch my back.”)
- Confusion (“I don’t know what’s going on here or what I’m doing.”)
- Panic (“I’ll never be able to do this.”)
- Cynicism (“Nothing ever really changes around here.”)
- Resignation (“I give up.”)
- Despair (“Nothing can prevent this looming catastrophe.”)
- Resentment (“I don’t ever get the respect I deserve.”)
Notice how often moods have a generalized, exaggerated, and demanding feel about them. Words like “never,” “don’t ever,” “nothing,” and “must” describe the tonal quality of moods. Moods don’t come and go, like feelings, they instead linger and define our way of being as leaders.
That’s why it’s so important for leaders to work constructively with our feelings and to cultivate positive moods. How we show up emotionally influences and often determines the culture and climate of our organizations as well as what gets done. To see how that works, turn those “bad” moods around in the list above and then ask yourself the following question: “What kind of leader would I rather work with?”
- Empowerment (“I enable others to find a way.”)
- Trust (“I can rely on people.”)
- Clarity (“I understand what’s happening and what to do.”)
- Calm (“I feel comfortable in any situation.”)
- Confidence (“Success can be arranged.”)
- Determination (“Together, we can get this done.”)
- Hope (“Things have a way of working out.”)
- Happiness (“People appreciate my contribution and effort.”)
Those words have a strong, positive resonance about them. Chances are good that you found yourself saying, “Yes, that’s the kind of leader I would like to work with.” Who wouldn’t! We count on leaders to set the pace, and part of that pace is communicated by our moods. If we are anxious or demanding souls, then the ability of people to work together, think creatively, improvise solutions, and rebound from adversity is greatly compromised.
So don’t let that happen. Do what it takes to cultivate a good mood. Work through negative emotions and cook up positive ones through whatever techniques lift your spirits and enable you to be at your best on a day-to-day basis. You owe it to yourself and to those you lead to make it so.
Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your mood in life and work? What would assist you to cook up more positivity? Where do you go to find clarity, calm, confidence, and hope? Who could help you to find those energies today and to stay with them tomorrow?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
I have been sitting on my “cook’s porch” since about 7:00 this morning listening to and watching the birds and other critters become active. It is also a time for me to sink into my more intentional prayers • focusing particularly on some folk who have come to my attention and who are in some way deep into life challenges / opportunities.
As I read your Provisions piece on Mindfulness just now, I am struck by how much intentional prayer and mindfulness are alike. I have liked Yoda since he first came on the scene in Star Wars, and thank you on this day for helping me remember his profound words! Provisions was a great way to close the prayers today.
Don’t say Yes. Be Yes.
Every week when I read Provisions, it seems like they were written directly to me and situations I am facing. Thank you for that!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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