Are you killing your co-workers?

New research shows us that emotions are contagious and affect the people around us. Read this article to find out how our emotions affect our culture and also how we can improve our cultural leadership.

 Adapted from the HBR article by Daniel Goldman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee.

Latest psychological research tells us that our emotions drive and guide our behaviour, develop or ruin relationships, guide attention and help us store memories. Put simply our emotions control our performance and quality of life. They even have a dramatic impact on our health as negative emotions lead to the release of toxic chemicals that damage our body. Intensive care units have shown that patients who are comforted by others have lower levels of stress hormones, lower blood pressure and even have lower secretion of artery clogging fatty acids.

Obviously emotions have a big impact on you, but do your emotions affect your environment?

The reality is that emotions are carried through your organisation like electricity through a cable.

Put another way your emotions are contagious. The question is are your emotions worth catching?

A closed loop system is one that regulates its self and is not influenced by the outside world. Your emotions/mood is an open loop system meaning that the environment affects them. This open loop system allows a mother to console her distraught child, or a manager to rev up their sales team.

This means that our mood affects the mood of our team. In 2000 Caroline Bartel at New York University and Richard Saavedra at the University of Michigan found that people in meetings adopted the same mood (good and bad) within 2 hours. They also found that teams of nurses and accountants tracked the same emotions over the week, even though they varied in terms of external stress and challenges.

Depending on what sort of emotions you bring to work you could be quite literally killing your co-workers. Pause for a moment and consider how do you affect the mood of your team? We so often only focus on the role of the leader, however we all affect the mood of our team.

Having said that the greatest influence on a team is the mood of the leader. It is so potent that many leaders should consider their primary task as the emotional leadership of their team. This is not to say that leaders cant have bad days, however research tells us that teams perform best and solid culture is built when the leader regularly has an optimistic, authentic and high energy mood.

Can we change our mood? In a word YES!. A person's emotional state and attitude are not genetically hard wired, they can be changed. However we all have a bias towards a certain style and emotional set point.

The more we act in a certain way be it happy, cranky or sad, the more we reinforce that pattern in our brain and the more we act that way.

This is where emotional intelligence matters. An emotionally intelligent person can be self aware of their mood/emotions, change them for the better through self management, understand their impact through empathy and act so that they improve the emotional state of those around them.

Steps to improve you emotional state:

1. Picture it up!

What emotional state do you want to be in? Picture how you want to act, be perceived, what is the mood of your team like. Get a clear understanding of how you want things to be.

2. Take Stock!

Find out your starting point. Many leaders do not know how they affect their team and environment. I have spoken to many leaders to have them inform me of the great "vibe" in their team and how their team loves their leadership style. Only to be informed by the team that they see them as a "tyrant" and unapproachable. Park the ego and ask your team for feedback. The best way to do this in anonymously, you might also consider getting formal 360-degree feedback. In addition make it ok for your team to give you feedback on your emotional leadership. Relax we are not as perfect as we think we are.

3. Bridging the Gap!

How do you start to develop your leadership? First step is to up-skill yourself. Here are some things I have seen other leaders do in the past.

a. Simply start to research and educate yourself on this area through books and courses.

b. Take time to reflect, some of the best leaders I have worked with spend 30 mins a day reflecting on their emotional leadership. They analyse different situations during that day and examine how they reacted and how they could have responded in a better way.

c. Some look outside of work, they develop empathy and emotional regulation by coaching their children's soccer team or devoting time to a local charity.

4. Practice Makes Perfect!

Choose one emotion to work on. For example you may choose to practice more patience with your co-workers, more empathy, greater optimism or simply look at removing anger and judgement from your leadership style. The way we change our behaviour, is to do and redo the new behaviour, over and over again. This breaks old neural patterns. An added bonus is that we can fast track this with visualisation. Imagining something in vivid detail fires the same brain cells and neural pathways that are actually involved in the real life task. Before a meeting or on the way to work start to run through your head and picture how you want to lead and manage your team.

5. Get some Help!

Find a coach or a colleague who you can debrief you activity with. I have encouraged many leaders in large corporates to form coaching groups where they discuss their challenges and how they handled them. The feedback has been that they are exceptionally beneficial.