Mood is a fundamental element of being human. We all experience a range of moods, sometimes clearly linked to specific situations or events, sometimes seemingly for no reason. It is foolish to try and control mood, but we can practise mastering our mood. We can strive to step beyond our mood by making commitments to action irrespective of how we are feeling. Sometimes we’ll be successful in this, other times less so. Leaders need to be especially conscious of their mood as it will be magnified and can affect the whole organisation.
Like it or not, the mood of the leader has an outsized impact on the mood, and therefore the performance of the team. But effective leaders should not take this to mean that they should try to manage or manipulate the mood of the team to build the culture or the dynamic they want. Managing your own mood is hard enough, controlling the mood of a team or organisation is impossible. To be effective leaders must master their own moods and be present to the mood of the organisation.
Unconsciously or consciously a leader will impose their mood on the team. Some try to impose a positive, up-beat culture by force of personality. Others may drag-down energy unconsciously by allowing a dark mood to leak out from them. Whatever the intention or the outcome, leaders need to understand the way their own mood influences those around them.
Acknowledging to yourself how you feel, and then committing to try and move beyond it with actions aligned to the vision and goals of the team takes practice but is essential to effective leadership. Supressing or trying to disguise moods will exacerbate leakage. Others will see inauthenticity which will only amplify the impact of your actual mood on the wider organisation.
The simple tip is to be honest about your own mood with your team. That’s not to say you need to give a daily ‘weather report’ on how you feel but be conscious when your mood is likely to influence others and be open and transparent about how you feel. Articulating your mood, and perhaps its causes, into words will not only help you master it, but by opening yourself up, will engage support from others. Crucially, you are also managing the little voices inside the heads of your team. They are no longer speculating about why you are acting in a certain way or what they have done or not done to influence your mood.
Leaders are not ambassadors of the mood of the organisation, shaping it with their own mood, but caretakers. They need to be fully present to the overall mood of the team. Although they cannot manage the mood, the need to know when and how to intervene to understand root causes of developing moods before they negatively impact culture.
For example, everyone likes to gossip. Sharing news and opinions about the people around us is natural and plays an important role in building social connectedness in any group. As a leader you must expect that some of this gossip will be about you and your vision. Not all of it will be positive. For many, the natural inclination when they hear gossip or negative chat about themselves or their projects is to weigh in and try to change the mood of the conversation. The smart choice is to sit back a little and really tune into what is being said.
Blowing off a little frustration with some gossip – however hard it is to hear – can be good for team culture. Fresh air is allowed to circulate around opinions, which once articulated are often resolved naturally. It is a hard practice for leaders to develop, but they need to become expert at being present to these concerns, without letting them impact their own mood. Allowing your own mood to dictate responses by, for example, closing down conversation, sees that mood colour the mood of the team and forces discussion into the shadows. At the other extreme, leaders that completely divorcing themselves emotionally from these discussions undermines cohesion and blinds them to important information on the performance and status of the team.
Listening carefully, leaders can tease out what is just venting and what are real concerns. When gossip moves from short-term venting to more sustained complaining, then an effective leader will step in. Uncommitted complaints – that point out what is wrong but have very low commitment to change - can begin to create a commentator culture. Rather than engaging with the project, individuals move to the side-lines to criticise. They begin to look to recruit others to their cause rather than seek solutions. Workplace bullying can result as cliques build and scapegoats are identified. Leaders must be alive to this change in mood and act quickly to get to the bottom of it.
Exhorting people to ‘get back on the bus,’ or trying to impose a mood of positivity and togetherness are unlikely to be effective. In these scenarios the leader must become the coach – fully engaged and present to the concerns that are creating the mood of the commentators. Only through listening beyond what’s wrong to discern what’s missing can they help individuals leave the side-lines and get back on the pitch as players. We’ll explore the essential role of leader as coach, and the techniques they can use to be effective at this in a future blog.
Moods are part of being human, and our individual moods affect the collective mood and culture of teams and organisations. As both ambassador and caretaker of the mood of the organisation, leaders need to be ultra-conscious of their own mood and become experts and mastering it.
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