Catching the Moods of Your Boss

May 2, 2010 by Ken Nowack

“Nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around.”

Bill Watterson


Despite a lot of press about how bad moods at work can be attributed to leader’s behavior, there has been limited direct research to support this hypothesizsed relationship–until now.

We all know that leaders make a significant difference in talent enagement, retention and level of stress1 but what are the effects of leaders on emotions at work?

Leaders always have a power differential that might influence the relationship they have with their talent. Leaders have the ability to limit autonomy and decisional control that affects levels of stress in all employees.  They also provide evaluations of performance that truly affect pay, promotions and careers.

A recent study found 2 that employees report, on average, that only about 20% of their interactions with their managers are generally negative.    On average, talent reported feeling unhappy 14.7 per cent of the time they were asked, and sad just 7.8 per cent of time. But when employees reported that a negative interaction had occurred  this affected their mood five times as much than if a positive event or interaction had occurred.

The researchers also found that talent who tended to start each day in a better mood than most, also tended to respond more to positive events, but they weren’t protected from the powerful influence of negative events.

In a recent longitudinal study from health care workers followed 4 times a day for 2 weeks, employees with managers high on a measure of “transformational leadership orientation” experienced significantly more positive emotions throughout the day.  More importantly, these positive emotions also had a “spill over” affect on customers and peers within their work group3.

Leaders who have a “transformational” rather than transactional orientation to their approach to supervision and management focus less on short-term goals and more about the needs of talent translating into enhanced engagement and connection to the vision of the organization.  In three unpublished studies utilizing our own measures of emotional intelligence (Emotional Intelligence View 360), leaders who are charcterized as being higher on EI also are signifcantly higher on all scales of several well known measures of transformational leadership (e.g., MLQ; Avolio &  Bass).

Taken together, these studies really demonstrate just how much power leaders have on the emotions of employees. The positive emotions generated by emotionally intelligent leaders with a transformational orientation apparently have the potential to affect both engagement of talent and their behavior with internal/external customers.

As Daniel Goleman reminds us, the emotional brain responds more quickly than the thinking brain. I guess that’s why leaders play such an important role in employee’s emotional experiences at work.

It looks like the emotional intelligence of leaders is in fact pretty important and their impact on employee morale goes far beyond just the emotional “contagion” process….Be well……

[tags]surveys, Envisia, Envisia Learning, emotions, leadership, transformational leadership, positive supervisory interactions, morale, climate, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]

  1. K. (2005). Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Employee Engagement: Creating a Psychologically Healthy Workplace. Unpublished manuscript []
  2. Miner, A., Glomb, T. &  Hulin, C. (2005). Experience sampling mood and its correlates at work.  Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 78-171-193 []
  3. Bono, J., Foldes, H., Vinson, G., & Muros, J. (2007).  Workplace emotions: The role of supervision and leadership.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1357-1367 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Relate, Wellness

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