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

You Want Creative? Then Get Into a Good Mood

If creativity in the organisation features in your leadership vision, you must read this. A top team of researchers from Harvard and three other top US universities found concrete evidence that creative thought is consistently preceded by being in a good mood.

The reason why this study matters is that it wasn’t conducted in a lab or some other experimental setting, but in the workplace where people were using creative thinking to solve problems in their work. They analysed over 11,000 daily diaries kept by 222 employees in seven companies over a long period of time, and found ‘consistent evidence of a positive relationship between positive emotion and creativity’. These people weren’t relentlessly positive and there was plenty of evidence of negative moods – but they didn’t find a negativity-creativity link.

Then there was more…the people who’d been creative experienced more positive emotion and there was some evidence that the reaction of others to the creativity caused more positivity as well; a potentially powerful organisational effect.

So how could you encourage your team to be in a good mood?

Research source: Teresa M. Amabile, Harvard University; Sigal G. Barsade, University of Pennsylvania; Jennifer S. Mueller, New York University; Barry M. Staw, University of California at Berkeley (2005). Affect and Creativity at Work.

Loneliness is a Management Issue

Who’s lonely at work in your business?  It’s easy to find out, say researchers.  Ask their colleagues, as they will invariably know.

And you should know too.  Because the first ever research study into loneliness at work confirms it reduces performance.

The solution is making sure they feel included and facilitating better relationships – both are good positive leadership practices.

How could you do this in your team?  It could be as simple as involving them in important projects, setting up a buddy system or encouraging your team to talk face to face more, not just via email.

The research showed lonely people at work may act as if they are positive but this isn’t true.  They are less emotionally committed to the organisation and effectively withdraw.  Their loneliness reduced performance in key areas: undertaking tasks, fulfilling team roles and relationships with others.

Source: Hakan Ozcelik and Sigal Barsade (2011).  Work Loneliness and Employee Performance.  Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings.

The insights you’ll learn on our Positive Leadership course will help you boost the performance of your team and your own resilience.

Do contact us if you’d like to know more.