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Sunday, November 29, 2009

What It Takes to Be a Remarkable Leader

If you want to uderstand the success of Silicon Valley and the leadership that Valley VC's provide to the world of technology, please watch this fascinating lecture from one of the doyens of the venture capital world, John Doerr:


How a Leader's Emotions Affect Workplace Performance

What if you could change the behaviour of your team or workgroup just by changing how you feel during the day? How about if as a leader, you could actually improve your team’s performance merely by shifting your emotions?

There is evidence that a leader’s emotions can influence others’ emotions. Now, research indicates the effect of a leader’s emotions go one step further. How you feel can impact workgroup performance, for good or ill.

A recent article in the Academy of Management Journal noted that a leader’s emotional tone interacts with the workgroup environment in specific ways which either improve or inhibit team performance.

The key to how your emotional attitudes will affect others lies in what type of environment you are working in. Angry leaders in low stress environments tend to see a positive performance result when they display anger. Workgroup members are most often able to identify the source of the anger as relating to poor performance and become motivated to work harder.

An interesting thing happens when deadlines loom, or the environment becomes stressful. Under such conditions, team members are much less likely to be able to differentiate the angry response as independent of the environment. They end up taking offense at the display of anger and become less motivated to perform for the manager’s or team’s benefit.

This is tricky stuff. Why? Because it means that managers must be able to read the environment accurately, and manage their own emotional displays intentionally - not always an easy thing to do, especially when stakes are high. When to be hard-nosed and when to be supportive become important factors influencing how well your team does.

Note that this doesn’t mean you have to display a happy attitude all the time. In fact, in situations where the stakes are low, sometimes your display of frustration will motivate folks to work harder. If you are going to display displeasure though, you need to be careful and intentional. Here are some guidelines.

Check your emotions at the door. Easier said than done, right? The first step to effectively managing your emotions is to become aware of them. Are you angry, frustrated, sad? Or are you excited and happy? The key is to identify these before the team interaction so you don’t need to act on them.

Read the environment. A key contributing factor to the performance variation regarding a leader’s emotional display is the environmental influence. Is your team having a light day and relaxing even though there is a project on the table? Or is there an immediate deadline essential to success? Is the team relaxed or stressed?

As best you can, act intentionally. Emotions can be highly influential of our behaviour. However, if you have paused to consider your own emotional state, and then taken the time to consider the environment, you can then make an intentional emotional shift. The team that is relaxing may respond to a stern lecture. The team under stress will likely respond better to a happy, supportive chat.

While this appears to be a simple three step process, it is considerably more difficult than it seems. This type of behaviour requires a high degree of emotional and social intelligence - and some good learning, training and practice.

This research isn’t condoning angry outbursts in a work setting. We need to be respectful and considerate with our colleagues. However, in our view, a positive leadership style will trump punishment and consequences over the long term in any organisation.

Knowing your own emotional state and the emotional environment of your team provide useful data you have about how your team is likely to respond and perform at different times. Teams are powerful precisely because they are interactive and interdependent, not only in their work but in their emotional and social domains as well. As a leader, you have a great opportunity - and responsibility - to guide these interactions for the benefit of your organisation.