Does a leader’s mood
affect team performance?
People take their cues from a leader’s state of mind
By Angela Civitella
Previously published October 25, 2017
There has been extensive research done on employee performance that confirms that there is a direct correlation between the two.
The saying “Noblesse oblige” which explains that having wealth, power and prestige go hand-in-hand with certain social responsibilities – in short, with privilege comes duty. The privilege of leading a team comes with the responsibility of managing moods, which because of an already overwhelming agenda, often times does not get any attention or importance. It is assumed that a leader’s mood swings are to be understood, reasoned out, accepted, and eventually become part of the background of the working environment you are in. Facts would be proven otherwise.
… up to 30% of a company’s financial results… are determined by the climate of the organization.
In a Harvard Business Review article called Leadership That Gets Results, Daniel Goleman cites research which shows that up to 30% of a company’s financial results (as measured by key business performance indicators such as revenue growth, return on sales, efficiency and profitability) are determined by the climate of the organization.
So what is the major factor that drives the climate of an organization? It’s the leader. In Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Goleman states that roughly 50-70% of how employees perceive their organization’s 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 productivity and level of engagement.
Praise or disapproval
How many times have you left the office, on a Friday afternoon, with a big smile on your face because your boss just commended you on doing well in whatever you were handling on that particular day or week. The motivation to want to get back to the office on Monday morning with even greater enthusiasm, stayed with you throughout the weekend. Come Monday morning, you have a renewed energy to be more productive, to bring your finest talents to work, causing you to race through breakfast and enthusiastically drive to work while singing loudly to your favourite song in the car.
‘… roughly 50-70% of how employees perceive their organization’s climate is attributable to the actions and behaviours of their leader.’
What about the opposite: when your boss disapproves of something you’ve done, and lets you know it. This is what Susan Scott, in Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time, brilliantly calls “The Emotional Wake”. That’s what stays with you after being the recipient of some acrid remarks from a leader in a negative mood. How did that affect your determination to handle a project, to keep your heart fully engaged in the process, to want to continue to give that person your very best game?
Toxic environment and consequences
There is much reading material on leadership that confirms the consequences of a leader’s mood. One such study involved 62 CEOs and their top management teams and it showed that the more upbeat, energetic and enthusiastic the executive team was, the more co-operatively they worked together, and the better the company’s business results. The study also showed that the longer a company was managed by an executive team that didn’t get along well the poorer the company’s market returns.
‘… when managers themselves were in an upbeat, positive mood, their moods spilled over to their staff, positively affecting the staff’s performance and increasing sales.’
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. In one of a multitude of such studies involving 53 sales managers in retail outlets who led groups ranging in size from four to nine members, it was found that when managers themselves were in an upbeat, positive mood, their moods spilled over to their staff, positively affecting the staff’s performance and increasing sales.
When we move the curtain a bit, we can see clearly that a leader’s bad mood is a source of an emotional contagion that eventually spreads across people to entire units. Please remember, 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 corporate hair 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 so brilliant.” Or, “He has an amazing mind but he has a tendency to shout at people when it’s stressful.” We tend to make excuses for someone who has great intelligence, or great burdens, but nothing excuses bad behaviour. And it may very well have to be in some environments – but the message it sends to constituents 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 an unpredictable leader elicits anxiety and, in some cases even fear, both of which negatively affect performance and productivity.
‘We tend to make excuses for someone who has great intelligence, or great burdens, but nothing excuses bad behaviour.’
Of course, no leader steps out of the elevator in the morning 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. To be clear, we are not advocating that leaders turn into a shrink-wrapped version, complete with false smiles and fake cheerfulness. Constituents spot a non-genuine smile anyway and are very adept at noticing when a leader infantilizes them.
What is the right mood?
There are no easy solutions to managing emotions, it is in the often-difficult circumstances in which leaders must operate and make decisions. However, we can draw some advice from another Harvard Business Review article entitled Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance. First of all, it’s important to note that a leader’s mood has the greatest impact on performance when it is upbeat. But it must also be in tune with those around him.
‘The most effective executives display moods and behaviours that match the situation at hand, with a healthy dose of optimism mixed in.’
This called dynamic resonance. “Good moods galvanize good performance, but it doesn’t make sense for a leader to be as chipper as a blue jay at dawn if 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.” The operative threesome here is ‘optimism’, ‘hope’ and ‘humour’. As someone once put it, leaders are dealers in hope.
Steps towards better performance
So what are the specific recommendations? Your mood and behaviour affects performance. How do you work on attaining the consistent, emotionally intelligent leadership behaviours that breed success in yourself and others? Here are a few other suggestions to consider that can improve your and your team’s performance:
- Aim for a calm, relaxed mood, and a consistent, positive approach.
- Look for good in others, make them aware of the greatness that lies in them.
- Read the emotional atmosphere that surrounds you, how do people act in your presence? Is there a shift when you are gone? Try to ask a trusted acolyte about this.
- Be pleasant and cooperative, it is almost impossible to have executive presence without it.
- Be emotionally attractive, so that you can create a tone that engages and inspires people.
If you cringe at the whole notion of emotions in the workplace, including talk of empathy and compassion, intuition or discussions of emotional intelligence, I encourage you to reconsider this mindset. Hone your intuitive ability, and listen to those hunches that hint to you that something in your behaviour and actions on bad days is causing a ripple effect on others. These are the whispers we try to dismiss when we elect to focus only on ‘rationality’. Intuition is a precious tool worth including in our kit. Einstein put it best: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Angela Civitella, a certified management business coach with more than 20 years of proven ability as a negotiator, strategist, and problem-solver creates sound and solid synergies with those in quest of improving their leadership and team building skills. You can reach Angela at 514 254-2400 • linkedin.com/in/angelacivitella/ • intinde.com • @intinde