Super-spreader. Maybe you’re familiar with the term. A “super-spreader” refers to a person who spreads disease to many people. The phrase has been used for years in fields that study diseases, like epidemiology, but the concept also has a place in leadership circles through the topic of emotional contagion.
Decades of research show that anxiety and stress are prevalent problems at work, contributing to deficiencies in employee morale, well-being, and the topic no employer can ignore: productivity. While negative emotions can be caused by several factors, one well-known and pervasive cause in the workplace is emotionally unintelligent leadership. What we say and do influences our team’s physical and emotional well-being, and the higher up the organizational food chain we are, the more people we are likely to influence.
Leaders are super-spreaders of emotion.
It is for this reason that leaders must pay attention to how we act and communicate. This is intensified during times of increased uncertainty, as people often look to leaders to guide them in the face of fear, to provide clarity and direction, and, most of all, to give reasons to remain hopeful and optimistic.
This week we will identify critical behavioral patterns within leaders that increase anxiety and spread toxic emotions throughout our organizations (we’ll cover two today and two on Friday). If we can spot these behaviors, we can learn how to change them and become more positive and, subsequently, more productive leaders.
Ignoring the Emotions of Others
Perhaps the biggest mistake we can make is ignoring our team’s feelings. This failure often occurs when a leader is hyper-focused on dealing with their own emotions or is absorbed by a task. Whatever the contributing factor, ignoring the emotions of others comes at a great expense. We all want to be considered and valued. Nothing undercuts those desires like someone ignoring our emotions, whether it’s intentional or unintentional.The remedy here is empathy. A practical starting point is to remember that it is more important to monitor people’s affect, mood, and stress during difficult times than to check on their work performance, productivity, or task management. Simple emotion-monitoring techniques are to have more one-on-one meetings with team members, raise the frequency of communication, ask more open-ended questions that invite people to engage, and show understanding whenever possible. As Dale Carnegie put it, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”
We live in a world that stigmatizes negativity and condemns pessimism as if it were a psychological problem. We would suggest that healthy cynicism is underrated, as it helps leaders to identify and prevent threats, minimize risks, and avoid reckless and overconfident decisions.That said, during anxious and stressful times, leaders’ pessimism is more likely to turn into a liability, demoralizing others and pushing their already high anxiety to stressful levels. This means that even when we cannot find reasons to project optimism, we should still refrain from displaying absolute pessimism. Controlling our emotions and projecting composure and calmness will strengthen our colleagues. We must remember that leadership is not about us; it’s about influencing others in positive ways for maximum productivity.
Final Thought: As leaders, we are amplifiers of emotion. If we do things right, we can bring out the best in people even in the worst of times. If we do things wrong, we will lower morale and performance even when things are fine.