Recently I met, for the second time, someone who in a previous life was a well-known television personality. Famous for being fit, in the proper meaning of that word, as well as for being famous. Someone who inspired millions to become more active, take more exercise and live healthier lives. Someone who, many years later and in person now, not ‘on the telly,’ still exudes warmth, energy and yes, inspiration, to an extraordinary degree.
From inside a television studio she knew how to reach out and connect with people in ways that made them want to be more like her. That is inspiration in action – setting off emotions in people that makes them identify with an idea, or want to take action. For us as leaders that means getting people to identify with our organisation, or its vision, or purpose.
The glue that holds people together in teams, that keeps people committed and makes high performers continue performing, is emotion. Groups pick up on their leaders’ emotions from facial expressions, gestures, tonality and the language they use. Research shows that optimistic, enthusiastic leaders retain people much more readily than leaders who tend more towards negative moods
A study at the Yale School of Management found that among working groups cheerfulness and warmth spread most easily, while irritability is less contagious and depression hardly spreads at all. We like to share with people who are feeling good, and want to share that feeling with us, we tend to shun those whose moods are not so bright. The Yale study also found that moods influence how effectively people work: upbeat moods boost cooperation, fairness and business performance.
Some leaders exude upbeat feelings, they are RADIATORS of confidence and enthusiasm. Others are irritable, touchy, cold, aloof or domineering. They DRAIN positive feelings out of the group replacing them with anxiety, dejection and cynicism.
So what to do? Communicate high expectations, model the behaviours you want to see around you, build a positive climate by radiating good energy and engage and align people. That means giving support and personal attention to people. Challenge and interest them, make sure they believe their skills are required, build their confidence, and balance challenge with development. Know what individuals are capable of and recognise what they find personally challenging and rewarding. Find opportunities for people to solve problems, make discoveries and achieve difficult goals, and finally make sure you celebrate success on a regular basis.
Many of our leadership roles are low profile. Our reputations may not extend far outside our team or immediate group of colleagues, while for others trial-by-media, and especially social media, comes with the job. You don’t have to shout from the rooftops all the time, or be bouncing off the walls with positive energy, but leading means you go first. If you want people to be inspired then make sure your behaviour is inspirational, every day, all day long. And if you do that then, like the lady ‘off the telly’, you may end up spreading warmth, positivity and yes, inspiration, everywhere you go. How good would that be?