Leading for Results Means Cultivating Positive Emotions

Positive emotions within school communities are a bulwark against the inevitable challenges they face. (Photo: Dennis Sparks)

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.”

7 Responses to “Leading for Results Means Cultivating Positive Emotions”

  1. 1 G. Michael Abbott February 1, 2010 at 8:28 am

    You described the essence of leadership in today’s column. It is a lesson in developing that hard-to-describe quality called charisma. Keep these columns coming.


    • 2 Dennis Sparks February 1, 2010 at 9:19 am

      I know what you mean, Mike, and I appreciate your comment. I’m reluctant to use the term “charisma,” though.

      I’m often asked if I really believe leadership can be developed given that it’s really about charisma, which people either have or don’t have. And if you don’t natural have it, well, you can’t be a good leader. At least that’s how quite a few people think about it.

      I respond by saying that in my experience many outstanding leaders would not be described as charismatic, but they do their jobs incredibly well each day and continuously develop their skills and the quality of teaching and learning in the school community.

  2. 3 Heather Langenhahn February 1, 2010 at 11:05 am

    With positive intentions, gratitude will grow.

  3. 4 Kent Peterson February 16, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Emotional intelligence, authenticity, and communicating core values all shape a positive culture.

    But as I have seen in my studies of school culture, not acting in these ways can turn a school culture toxic almost overnight.

    In one school with a strong positive learning culture, a new principal stopped regular sharing of craft knowledge at faculty meetings (a tradition that build positive relationships AND expanded skills. The culture went from positive to fragmented within weeks of this change.

    This set of ideas are ones to live by.

  1. 1 “Buoyant Moods” Improve Performance « Leading for Results—Dennis Sparks' Blog Trackback on February 4, 2010 at 4:14 am
  2. 2 Professional conversations of substance provide many benefits « Leading for Results—Dennis Sparks' Blog Trackback on March 31, 2010 at 4:02 am
  3. 3 “Motivate the elephant” to influence change « Leading for Results—Dennis Sparks' Blog Trackback on May 12, 2010 at 4:04 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,778 other followers



Recent Twitter Posts