If happiness is contagious, then crabbiness is like the plague. People write about startup culture all the time, praising the flexibility and casualness, and often mistaking perks for culture.
One major component that’s often left out of the conversation is the power that a leader’s mood has in shaping culture. When running a business (especially a growing startup), there’s a spotlight on your leadership and how it affects the rest of the company. A negative attitude can tarnish your reputation and create a ripple effect within your growing team.
This is exactly what Judith Volmer found in her study, “Catching Leaders’ Mood: Contagion Effects in Teams.”
Obviously, a pessimistic vibe can rub off on others, but her report also revealed that it can infect team members’ feelings toward one another, the tasks at hand and adversely affect performance.
This makes a strong case for positivity, simply for the sake of productivity!
Consider these solutions to maintain a constructive attitude when leading your team.
Dream up the worst-case scenario, and realize it’s not that bad. Leaders often let the little worries and what-ifs pile up -- especially in the high-stake entrepreneurial atmosphere. When you’re getting worked up about potential issues, think through the absolute worst end result.
Unless you’re in the healthcare field, it’s probably not a life-or-death situation. Let that sink in, and tell yourself you can get through it. When you make an effort not to blow little issues out of proportion, you set a good example for your team.
Take a breath before you speak. I get into the most trouble when I’m under stress and blurt out frustrated statements rather than take a deep breath and phrase my statements in a more constructive way.
We can’t speak without thinking, but according to researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Psycholinguistics, the temporal coordination of thought and speech varies depending on how complex a situation is.
When you’re confronted with a more complicated scenario, it takes your brain more time to sift through the information and plan an appropriate response. Jumping to speak before giving your brain sufficient time to react can get leaders in serious trouble.
Understand that part of your job is to absorb stress for others. The only thing worse than a crabby and stressed-out leader is a high-strung team. When employees start to turn negative and vent to you, the best thing you can do is listen and help diffuse the situation. If you play into the drama, you’re not helping the individual or the company as a whole.
I’ve encountered dozens of situations where the easy solution was to pile onto the hysteria, but listening with an open mind and asking the right questions allowed me to alleviate the stress employees were carrying.
Find a productive outlet for frustration or stress. It’s impossible to be happy all the time. Finding a physical outlet for frustration and stress helps you release these destructive feelings rather than hold them in until you reach a breaking point. Some outlets include walking or working out, but my favorite is singing insanely loudly in the car.
The next time you’re tempted to spit out a cynical comment in the office, think about the implications it could have for your entire team. Trying to stay positive can invigorate your employees and inspire a culture of constructive communication. And as your startup grows, that positive energy will infect your expanding team.