Emotional contagion and the role of positivity in leadership
Emotions and energy levels flow between teammates; one of the most important people setting the tone in a team is its leader or leaders.
It’s natural that energy levels ebb and flow in any team – there are always challenges, setbacks and disagreements. And although full transparency of information between teammates is ideal, there may be situations where information has to be withheld, which can put the leader in a position of feeling inauthentic and perhaps drained sometimes.
Leadership is a tough gig, and it’s a great idea to bounce ideas off other team leaders and outside the organisation. Invariably, the higher you climb in an organisation and have to juggle a lot of different balls, the more there will be times when you drop some – at which point you need some self-compassion – you’re doing the best you can with the resources you have in this current moment. And how can you keep a balanced perspective on your tasks – to care less without being careless? Are there other positive encouraging words you can say to yourself to remind yourself of competing priorities and the big picture?
In Dan Goleman’s model of leadership (“Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence”), he sets out four main quadrants on which a leader should focus every day:
- Self-care – finding ways to refill their energy reserves using micro-breaks throughout the day, ensuring they are advancing some of their own goals, looking after their nutrition, exercising and nurturing their relationships.
- Extracting value – making sure that current systems “hum” – that there is attention to safety, minimising waste and aligning individual strengths with team priorities
- Exploring new ways of doing things – having a growth mindset to change through encouraging strengths-based feedback and being curious about the environment you work in – what’s on the horizon?.
- Harnessing the team’s energy and focusing its attention – through active listening, celebrating the team’s wins, being a positive circuit breaker, and being enthusiastic and empathetic when needed.
In Goleman’s research, the first aspect is where leaders are most likely to invest the least. But their positivity and energy levels are of utmost importance to the whole team’s effectiveness.
In the following TED Talk, Brandon Smith explores the following:
- emotional contagion in teams – how negative emotions and mindsets can spread like wildfire in a team
- need for a leader to be the emotional positive circuit breaker in a team
- optimum ratio of positive to negatives in teams and one-to-one relationships (five positives to one negative) – those organisations with “too much fake positivity and too little authentic gritty conversations may be prone to dysfunction as are ones where there is too much negativity
- emotional labour – the amount of energy we have to expend to suppress emotions sometimes
- gratitude – the importance for leaders to show gratitude (and make it clear and specific)
As you reflect on your own position at work, what can you do to be a positive emotional circuit breaker and raise your energy levels? Read through to the bottom of this and then watch the TED followed by the podcast below.
Emotions and energy at work
In this 25 min ABC “This Working Life” podcast interview with Anya Johnson from Sydney Business School shares techniques for addressing low energy levels at work:
- How to handle someone who you experience as being an energy vampire
- The importance of taking personal responsibility in your relationships at work – do you tend to raise or drain your colleague’s energy levels?
- Raising energy in colleagues through enabling the development of a colleague’s inner work life – helping cultivate what they find intrinsically motivating, helping them play to their strengths, helping them learn in a way which aligns with how they take on new knowledge and helping them move towards their goals)
- How to raise your own energy levels if you feel you are being a drain on others – in the podcast they talk about simple breathwork techniques and chi kung (body awareness and breathwork)