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Grace Under Fire: How am I Addressing the Troops?

Posted April 7th, 2010 in Leadership by admin

I wanted to share the latest research from the University of Amsterdam highlighting one of the concepts discussed regarding the importance of inspiration during turbulent times.  Dr. Gerben van Kleef and five coauthors have confirmed what many of us intuitively suspect, which is that we get better results by cheering people on rather than coming down hard on them when people feel stressed.  What the research revealed is that mental fatigue and time pressure during stressful periods make team members more apt to simply react to the leaders’ mood rather than the actual message of the leader.  In other words, the team members initially pick up the tone of the message and the underlying emotion behind it.  If they pick up anger or frustration from the leaders’ tone, they become nervous and less productive.  Conversely, if they pick up inspiration from the leaders’ tone, they become more engaged and productive.

While all of this may seem obvious to leaders, remember that during times of uncertainty and stress, leaders often are incapable of monitoring how they are coming across to others.  In essence, their own fears and concerns are exhibited unconsciously despite their best intentions.

So how do we avoid falling prey to this phenomenon?  First, before addressing the troops, get in touch with your own emotional turmoil to prevent sending the wrong message to your team.  Recent data from Zenger/Folkman indicates that during tough times, leaders make sins of both commission (they’re abrasive or bullying) and omission (they’re aloof and unavailable.)   Either one of these sins will further disengage team members at a time when they are looking to you for inspiration and direction.

Second, after your have regulated and managed your own emotions, you can now deliver your message in a way that motivates and inspires.  The bottom line: Manage yourself before Leading others! Don’t communicate your message until you are prepared to deliver it in a manner that empowers and engages others.  Keep in mind that people look to their leaders not just to assign them a task, but to give them a sense of hope in the future.