Zenger Folkman, a professional services firm providing consulting, leadership development programs, and implementation software for organizational effectiveness, conducted a study involving 20,000 managers. Its findings? When leaders openly express positive emotions, the impact on others is amplified, arousing similar emotions in those who follow. The leader's emotions are "super contagious." Thus, proper use of emotions should be the key factor for every leader who wants to inspire.
Emotions Are Highly Contagious
Think of the most contagious disease you know about. E.coli? The common cold? Flu? Medical researchers observe that one sneeze in a room carries nearly a yard, and sends millions of germs into the air, traveling at more than 100 mph.
In a similar way, strong emotions within one person get transmitted to others, except that distance is no barrier. We've all been in a meeting where a gloomy, bad-tempered sourpuss manages to cast a pall over the entire session. Without fail, one critical, nit-picking individual can single handedly change the climate of the meeting.
On the other hand, a person with an upbeat attitude and an infectious laugh also wields a huge amount of influence. According to "Charismatic Leadership in Organizations," the research is clear that when leaders exert themselves, the effect is amplified because of that role. When leaders express strong emotions, this usually arouses similar feelings within those they lead.
When leaders make positive comments in group meetings, the self-confidence of the individuals in the group is enhanced. They proceed to display higher levels of motivation and set increasingly higher goals, according to J.M. George, author of "Leader Positive Mood and Group Performance: The Case of Customer Service." This leader's behavior effectively induces a higher level of trust within everyone in the meeting. This trust level can be measured, according to R.J. House, author of "A 1976 Theory of Charismatic Leadership."
Ten Steps to Take
1. Assess your own comfort with the world of emotion. Are you usually aware of when your colleagues are feeling down or elated? Do you know why?
2. Tune into your own emotions. Become more attuned to your own moods. Acknowledge when you are out of sorts and other people are tiptoeing around you.
3. Be attuned to the emotions of those around you. During your conversations with others, let them know you are aware of their reaction to a decision or situation, whether it be anger, disappointment, excitement, surprise, frustration, or pride.
4. Become more extroverted. Initiate conversations and be the one to extend a hand or say "hello." Speak loudly and confidently enough so others can hear you. Go to others' offices.
5. Display your emotions with greater amplitude and frequency. Express positive emotions through your facial expressions and body language. Don't hesitate to state your opinions with added emphasis.
6. Physically act the part. Look people in the eye when you speak with them. Stand up straight. Practice a firm but not bone-crushing handshake. Relax. Dress well. Smile. Put a twinkle in your eye.
7. Improve your one-on-one interactions. Begin and end conversations with positive and uplifting comments. Personalize what you say to your employees.
8. Practice making good use of large gatherings. Move around the room, learning and remembering names.
9. Set the tone for team meetings. Be constructive and keep the conversation honest. Observe the emotional tone of your staff meetings. Is it glum? Do people come grudgingly or with an air of resignation at putting up with this period of mild torture? Or is there an excitement and cheer in the air?
10. Improve your public speaking skills. Vary the pace and pitch of your voice. Use pauses and look at people in different parts of the room. Lean forward and use hand gestures. Tell stories. Help the people who work for you to be happy. Use your strong emotions to arouse the same positive emotions is others.
Inspiration and emotion are inextricably linked. The inspiring leader learns how to use this other realm of life, despite the fact that we seldom have any formal education or training that would help us be good at it. The fact is, the proper use of emotion is a key factor in the success of every inspiring leader.
While most leaders have little formal assistance in how to navigate in these waters, some facts about the use of emotion are becoming clear. As we learn more, the mystery of inspiration diminishes. We're getting a reasonably clear handle on what leaders do that inspires their followers.
Many of us attend to extreme emotions. We are quick to respond when people become extremely angry, sad, or joyful. What we're less effective at doing is being attentive to the more subtle, nuanced emotions that exist below our radar screen. These tip us off to impending issues. Many of us need to become more attuned to our own moods and emotions.
Most of all, we need to get comfortable doing the things inspiring leaders know and do so well. In general, these behaviors are not difficult. They push some people outside of their comfort zone, but performing them becomes its own reward. We're almost always immediately repaid with positive reinforcement when we practice the behaviors of the inspiring leader.
For more information on this subject material and the book, visit www.ZengerFolkman.com
John H. Zenger, D.B.A., is the CEO of Zenger Folkman, a firm that brings empirical research, innovative development methods, and software tools to leadership development. He is a member of the HRD Hall of Fame, and has authored or coauthored eight books and 50 articles on leadership, productivity, and teams.
Joseph Folkman, Ph.D., is president of Zenger Folkman. He is the author of three books: "Turning Feedback into Change," "Making Feedback Work," and "Employee Surveys That Make a Difference."
Scott K. Edinger is executive vice president at Zenger Folkman where he consults with Fortune 500 companies to initiate and implement large-scale performance improvement and leadership initiatives. Edinger is recognized as an expert in helping organizations achieve measurable business results.