Emotions are contagious, and positive emotions resonate throughout an organization and into relationships with other constituents. To get extraordinary things done in extraordinary times, leaders must inspire optimal performance—and that can only be fueled with positive emotions.
—James Kouzes & Barry Posner
Leaders’ joy, enthusiasm, and hopefulness are contagious. Likewise, leaders’ sadness, anxiety, anger, fear, cynicism, and resignation can infect the school community. Leaders’ emotions can spread like a virus as one member of the school community picks it up and carries it to others.
In Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee use the terms “resonant” to describe leaders whose positive emotions create similar feelings in others and “dissonant” for leaders whose negative feelings create downward flows of emotions and energy, a condition that some have called a “slow death spiral.” “The fundamental task of leaders,” they argue, “is to prime good feelings in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates a resonance—a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root, then, the primal job of leadership is emotional.”
The good news is that leaders can develop their emotional well-being through a number of means. While we may have been influenced by genetics and early life experiences, we also have the capacity to continuous move in the direction of greater joy, peace, and overall emotional well-being.
Because significant change in schools begins with significant change in leaders, the first step in addressing the school community’s emotional resilience is to do an honest self assessment of your overall emotional state to determine where you stand along a continuum from hopeful, positive, peaceful, and enthusiastic to worried, angry, cynical, and pessimistic. You may also ask staff members to give you anonymous feedback in this area to better understand how you are perceived by others and how your emotions affect the school community.
No matter where leaders find themselves along such a continuum, research in “positive psychology” says that individuals can increase their emotional well-being through a number of means, one of which is cultivating gratitude. A simple research-based technique that you can use to increase your gratitude is to note in writing at the end of each day three things for which you are grateful. Practicing this discipline for as little as six weeks has been shown to produce positive emotional effects.
Research also indicates that the development and application of “signature strengths,” particularly when used to achieve purposes larger than one’s own self interest, fosters emotional satisfaction. Psychologist Martin Seligman provides a self-assessment inventory of signature strengths for your review.
Additional research indicates that happiness is increased by giving to others, a finding that is well suited to the values and daily responsibilities of educators. It is also important that you carve out of your busy schedule “unencumbered time” to provide balance and strengthen relationships.
Leading for Results “Six-Word Leadership Tool”:
Positive emotions are contagious; develop them.
To strengthen your leadership practice
• No matter our starting point, all of us can benefit from a periodic tune up of our emotional well being. Select one of the areas described above as a starting point for such a tune up.
• Develop a “six-word leadership tool” to summarize your learning or to express an action you will take as a result of this essay. Please add your tool to the comment section of this blog and share it with one or more colleagues “back home.”