Leaders: Your emotions are contagious!

Great Bosses & Horrible Bosses

For just a moment, remember your favorite boss.  You know, the one you said

you would follow anywhere if he or she ever left the company.  The boss for whom you came in early and stayed late for to meet a promised project deadline.  How would you describe his or her overall mood?  How did you feel when you were working for him or her?

Now, remember the boss you would never work for again in a million years.  The boss you worked really hard to avoid being in the same room with for longer than necessary.   The boss you had when hiding under your desk or in your closet was not beneath you.  How would you describe his or her overall mood?  How did you feel when you were around him or her?

Surprised?  Probably not.  Now, here’s the tough question:

If I walked in the front door of your office or showed up at your next team meeting, how would I describe the mood of the people who work for you?

Neural Wi-Fi:  Peas & the Interpersonal Neurobiology of Leadership

Pretend for a moment you are spoon feeding peas to a baby sitting in a high chair.  What do you do?  As you are putting the spoon to her lips, what do you subconsciously do with your mouth (whether you like smooshed peas or not) … You got it, you  OPEN your mouth and make an aaahhhh sound, in a sometimes desperate attempt to get her to do the same.  Why?  It works most of the time.  Instinct. Mirror neurons.

The truth is, recent research in brain science proves that for humans (and I’ll add chimps and horses), emotions are actually contagious because of mirror neurons.  The short explanation is mirror neurons in our brains are responsible for our “catching” the mood of other people without realizing it. Add to that fascinating fact that our brains are prediction machines and constantly are making connections to predict the future based on our past experiences.  Your grumpy boss could be in a good mood on Friday, however your brain won’t realize it and will automatically predict (or believe), he’s his usually grumpy self.

E-motion = Energy in Motion

Why does this matter for leaders, bosses or other people of influence?  If you can believe that your mood is reflected in the mood of your team, you may or may not like what you see in the “mirror.”

What? … So What?… NOW WHAT?

While you may read this and understand or you are reading it for the first time and think Wow!  that makes sense, what’s the “So What?”  Understanding is overrated.  It does not automatically lead to action or doing anything differently tomorrow.  Unless you make a commitment to take action and the more accountable you are publicly the greater the odds you harness the action potential of your Aha! moment and transfer it into action.  Feel free to consider using the ACE approach to change:

1.  Awareness:  Notice your mood.  Notice the mood of others.  Label the feeling (without judgement is the key).

2.  Choice:  How do you like what you see in the mirror?  If it’s what you want, keep going.  If it’s not what you want, what choices do you have in the moment?

3. Execution:  What is one small action you are willing to take in that moment?  You don’t have to effect change on anything, just take action to make it different.

4.  Repeat #1 What information did you gather?  What choice do you want to make now?  What action will you take next?  Just like directions on shampoo, rinse, lather and repeat.

Accountability: What are you willing to do in the next 24 hours to recognize and change the effect you have on the people in your company?  If you have the courage, feel free to post your commitment in the Comment box below.  (If you are not quite that brave, feel free to email me directly.  All responses are strictly confidential!).

“The Human Moment at Work” – Harvard Business Review article

“The Key Ingredients to Build Rapport” – Daniel Goleman, YouTube

 

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(Original post written for LeadChangeGroup Blog by Christina Haxton, MA LMFT)

About the Author Christina

Christina Haxton is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of The Center for Sustainable Strategies, a business strategy & executive advisory company, assisting technology and life science entrepreneurs, business owners & CEOs to build a strong, purpose-driven company, achieve sustainable growth & avoid burnout. Contact Christina at (970) 387-8935 or christina@sustainable-leaders.com to inquire about speaking, training, coaching and consulting solutions for yourself or your company.

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4 comments
Laura Camacho, PhD says June 15, 2012

Great illustration of the mirror neutrons. I remember my mother doing the “feed the baby” facial movements even when I was an older kid and my siblings and I used to tease her about that. (Of course I did the same thing with my own kids.) But seriously, I find it helpful to habitually and consciously raise my own mood/energy level. If I’m feeling cruddy, I try to go into neutral. Most of the time I feel fantastic and I can see how my presence raises the energy level. Other people feel better around you and usually they don’t know why. Have a great week-end, Laura

Reply
    Christina says June 15, 2012

    Thank you for posting your example of feeding the baby – it’s perfect! This is another reason “raising your eyebrows” in curiosity when in a high conflict situation (narrowed downward eyebrows exude “fear” which is the opposite emotion of curiosity – same neurotransmitters, just different “meaning-making” going on).

    Help me remember whether or not the male species’ mouths open as much as the female’s when feeding a baby? It’s been a while since I was in that class!

    You have a great weekend, too!
    Christina

    Reply
Camille Isaacs-Morell says February 7, 2013

Thanks for a great article. Managing people involves managing emotions. I have to say that managing emotions is a very challenging for both the employee and the boss. It’s easy for managers to be affected by the emotional reactions of their employees. The ACE approach is helpful. I also shared my thoughts on this same topic – balancing empathy within professional boundaries. Check it out! http://thebigpicturecamille.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/balancing-empathy-within-professional-boundaries/

Reply
    Christina says February 9, 2013

    The Drop of a Cat! Yes, thank you for linking to your terrific, thoughtful post filled with practical ideas about balancing empathy with respect, for both the boss and the employee. If you are interested, check out my thoughts and strategies on “Professional Intimacy” (it’s not what you think!) I believe you’ll enjoy it :-). I appreciate your comments, Camille! Christina

    Reply
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