Fake Positivity is a Poor Strategy for Leaders

When good leaders feel stressed or overwhelmed, should they hide the negative emotions they may be experiencing?

No, suggests research by Sigal Barsade, a management professor at Wharton. She describes the concept of ‘emotional labour’, the effort that people at work put in stopping their emotions from becoming public.

There are two strategies for doing this: ‘surface acting’ and ‘deep acting’.

The first strategy (essentially, faking positivity like professional smiling) can cause more stress and even burnout.

The second strategy (showing emotions that people have worked on feeling which are authentic, such as empathy) is likely to be healthier, because less emotional exhaustion is involved.

Most leaders experience high levels of stress, so avoiding more is vital to remaining at your best. If things are going badly, leaders should protect themselves by using the second strategy, she advises. Be authentic (honest) and positive (optimistic) about the seriousness of the situation. Employees will appreciate and take comfort from this behaviour.

Source: Sigal Barsade, D. E. Gibson (2007), Why Does Affect Matter in Organizations? Academy of Management Perspectives

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