Previously published on Forbes.com
Moods are contagious. If you are in a foul mood, it’s very likely that you will negatively impact your team. If you have a happy, optimistic outlook, your team may feel the same. People tend to follow the leader, which is to say they unconsciously mirror you. This is great and terrible news all at once. If you want a happy team, you must show up powerfully and positively.
I have always said that a leader’s “thumbprint” is on his or her organization. People adapt their own behaviors to match the leader’s—to do what gains approval and avoid what provokes disdain. This is why how you show up every day matters so much.
In his book, Work Your Brain at Work, David Rock quotes Christian Keysers, a leading mirror neuron researcher, who explains what mirror neurons do in the human brain:
“What happens is that when we witness others’ facial expressions, we activate the same in our own motor cortex, but we also transmit this information to the insula, involved in our emotions. When I see your facial expression, I get the movement of your face, which drives the same motor response on my face, so a smile gets a smile. The motor resonance is also sent on to your own emotional centers, so you share the emotion of the person in front of you.”
As a leader, that means you need to make sure you’re in control of your moods. Here are three practical actions to help you do that:
1. Practice checking in with your emotions, and learn to name them fluently. Susan David shares a handy checklist of emotions in her HBR article, Three Ways to Better Understand Your Emotions. Teams can also encourage check-ins as they begin a meeting. An executive team that I coached placed a high value on each team member being personally and professionally fulfilled. So, they started each meeting by taking a few minutes to check in about where they were at physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. The check-in might sound like, “I had a great weekend with my kids, and I’m feeling rested and excited about the week ahead.” Or, “I’m struggling with caring for my elderly mom and challenged with my meeting schedule this week. But I’m also proud of my team for completing our budget project early.” These check-ins accomplish several important purposes: 1) They allow each leader to take a moment to get present and reflect about what’s really going on for them. 2) Each team member is able to witness and learn about the current state of their members. 3) Through this sharing, relationships, trust and support deepen over time.
2. Count to ten. If you get triggered by something that happens at work, take a deep breath. This allows the neo-cortex—the thinking part of the brain—to get ahold of the situation. Counting to ten before you do or say anything gets you out of the reactive zone and into more sane responses. Take some deep breaths and focus on gaining perspective. Don’t act, not just yet. Get your feet back under you before you do anything.
3. Take good care of yourself. Eat, sleep, exercise, breathe. Good self-care and self-awareness often lead to decreased moodiness, which, in turn, leads to you taking good care of your team. Do the basics and do them with an eye towards fueling better leadership for you and your team. Eat, sleep and exercise are not nice-to-haves, they are must-haves.
Christopher Barnes has studied the impact of sleep on leadership. In a recent HBR article, Sleep Well, Lead Better, he explains, “Insufficient sleep and fatigue lead to poor judgment, lack of self-control, and impaired creativity. Sleep deprivation doesn’t just hurt individual performance: When managers lose sleep, their employees’ experiences and output are diminished too.”
Being a leader is a privilege. You have the privilege of influencing others and the power to change the direction of things. This also means that you are accountable to grow yourself up. You learn resilience and get back up quickly when you’ve been knocked down. You gain control over your moods and the choices you make throughout your days. And you do it because it makes you, your team, your work environment and your work output that much better.