We all have good days and bad days. At the moment, living with Covid-related lockdowns, many of us are struggling with “meh” or “groundhog days”. The lack of novelty and stimulation seems to make days run together, and we can feel anxious, down or even depressed as a result. When we are responsible for managing people, however, whether in teams or larger groups, how we process these feelings can be highly impactful.
Throughout my career I’ve observed teams taking on the characteristics of their manager. Teams that are led by optimistic, collaborative and forward thinking individuals display the same attributes. Leaders who show fixed mindset characteristics, arrogance, lack of collaborative behaviours or other less-positive approaches can expect that their team members behave the same way.
The behaviours that we display as managers and our approach to failure or adversity will directly impact our teams’ behaviours. More, the emotional states we reflect to the world every day will influence how our teams feel. This is known as emotional contagion, which has been defined as the transfer of emotional states from one person to another (e.g. Barsade, Coutefaris, Pillemer (2018) – Emotional Contagion in Organizational Life). This can be seen with both positive and negative emotions – for example, the joy that spreads across a concert audience or the fear and anger that can quickly transform a crowd into a mob.
The larger the team, organisation, or group we are responsible for, the greater our emotional state’s impact on that cohort of people. I came across the retirement announcement of a senior executive at one of the world’s largest financial services institutions on LinkedIn yesterday. The statement he made was a simple one, thanking people for supporting him in his 20-year career with the firm. The feedback was incredible – I saw so many comments that went beyond the “congrats, x” default. The ones that really struck me were the ones that were along the lines of “you don’t know me personally, but I was lucky enough to work in your organisation, and you set the tone for what a leader should be.” Our impact, in every interaction, can be substantial.
In order to understand our impact, we first need to be self-aware enough to understand our current emotional state or mood. “How do I feel today?”, “Why do I feel this way?”, “How do I behave based on how I feel?” are all questions that help us understand how our actions are linked to our emotions. By practicing self-awareness we can better identify how we are impacting those around us.
While it is not always possible to feel positive, we must understand why we feel the way we do. We can acknowledge the feeling and then move to the next stage of deciding what to do. If we’re showing up to work regularly in a low mood, this can permeate our management interactions like a toxic fog. If we’re afraid for our position and focus on that, our staff will feel anxious and jittery. We need to balance the authenticity we all want to bring to work with understanding how to provide positive environments for our teams to work in.
So what’s the point of all of this? Emotional intelligence is an underdeveloped skill in managers and leaders and is recognised as a critical one for current and future leaders. The emotional states we display will be directly or indirectly absorbed and mimicked by our teams. Develop emotional intelligence (EQ/EI) to serve your teams, organisations and customers better. This is both the point and the ask of you as a manager.