It’s been estimated that leadership team behaviours explain 50-70% of the organizational climate. And why does it matter? Because the emotional climate is crucial for business success. The emotions experienced in the workplaces have a huge impact on people’s decisions, motivation, social interactions – and eventually the business results. Those companies with higher employee satisfaction outperform their peers by 2,3% to 3,8% per year in long-run stock return. In a study of 62 management teams, those companies whose leadership team had a positive climate were more successful financially.
But how is the everyday leadership teamwork in corporations? After all, working in a leadership team should be inspiring. Is there a better place to see the big picture, make a real impact, work with true professionals, and develop as a leader?
Yet I see many leadership teams struggle with the same motivational problems as the rest of the teams. To be honest, many leadership team meetings are FRUSTRATING.
There are internal struggles. Personal chemistry problems. Too much focus on details and non-strategic issues. Lack of energy and inspiration. Not enough talk about vision, strategy, and the future. The meetings get BORING – just another burden on a leader’s overloaded to-do list. Just another waste of time that drains your energy.
This is really frustrating for many leadership team members. Because at that level people ENJOY being challenged. They WANT to look at the big picture, take responsibility, and get results.
The missing ingredient?
Many leadership team development projects focus on creating a common vision, purpose, structure, ground rules, priorities, efficient meeting practices etc. The list goes on.
And sure, they are often helpful. But none of them guarantee a high performing leadership team. It’s very possible that you have all the basics in place, and still the leadership team is not reaching high levels of inspiration and performance. Because there is one crucial aspect that is often forgotten in leadership teams.
It is actually very much possible that a leadership team has none of those basics in place, yet it is highly inspiring to work in the team. There are lively, meaningful discussions, collective responsibility, and high accountability – despite the lack of structure.
So what is the missing ingredient?
It’s the emotional climate of the team. Even the best strategy and vision or the clearest priorities and rules do NOT guarantee success if the climate of the team is bad. Because emotions are the fuel for human performance. When the emotional climate of the leadership team is good, then there’s energy and commitment. There’s trust and psychological safety.
Let me make this very clear. We all understand that what happens around us has an impact on the emotions we experience. For example, if there’s too much work to be done and not enough resources (e.g. time) to do it, then anxiety arises.
But what we often don’t understand is the fact that emotions are also A CAUSE to our situation. Because emotions have a huge impact on the way our minds work.
For example, when anxious, our perceptions get distorted and our mind is focused on threats, random details and ruminating. If you’re sitting in a meeting where everyone is anxious, you’re not likely to be very innovative. How do you create an inspiring, out-of-the-box vision if your mind is stuck in details?
Then again, research shows that when you’re feeling positive emotions, like joy, pride and enthusiasm, your mind is much better at seeing the big picture, playing around with ideas, connecting the dots. A leadership team with better emotions is much more likely to see the big picture, come up with new ideas, and deliver better results.
So how do you build the emotional climate in a leadership team?
I recommend starting with getting the basics in place. Many times increased clarity on the common vision, priorities, targets etc already relieves frustration and builds motivation. But that’s not enough.
Once the basics are in place, here are four steps to get started with building the emotional climate:
1. Build momentum by clarifying the significance of being a member of the leadership team. I often start with something like this:
“There are probably tens of people in your company that would LIKE to be a member of this leadership team. But of all people, YOU have been selected to be in the team. So people are looking at you as individuals and as a team. How do you behave? How do your faces look like when you come out of team meetings? How do you FEEL about being a member of this team? And what kind of an image of this team do you want to give your people – are you a bunch of uninspired individuals or are you a competent team who enjoys working together? People are sensitive in detecting your emotions. What kind of an emotional climate do they perceive when they’re looking at you? Your behaviors have a HUGE impact on the organizational climate.”
2. Have a discussion about the current emotional climate of the leadership team. What kind of emotions do we often experience and express in this team? You can use the map of emotions I shared in this blog.
An honest discussion about the team’s emotional climate is immensely liberating. I’ve seen it work like magic so many times. When you do it in a right way, leaders are really, really eager to share their experienced emotions in their work.
“I’m often so frustrated about the ineffectiveness of our strategy implementation… Sometimes I worry how our people can take the pressure… It pisses me off when people don’t deliver what they’ve promised… I’m so excited about our new product lines…. Sometimes I feel like I’m not living the values I talk about…”
The discussions are often lively and there’s a great feeling of mutual relief and increased trust.
3. Have a discussion about the desired emotional climate of the team. How would we like to feel when working in this team? What should be the prevalent emotions we’d be experiencing and sharing in this team?
4. Learn the skills to lead the emotional climate of the team and the whole organization. There are plenty of ways to deal with emotions, and I’m sharing examples in my blogs. But there are other resources also. For example, Center for Positive Organizations is doing great research and applications around the topic.
I hope these ideas are helpful for you to get started. The most important thing is to have a really honest, authentic discussions about the way your team works and how it FEELS to be a member of this team. Time wasted on uninspiring leadership teamwork is expensive. Make sure working in your team is inspiring and meaningful. Your whole organization (and business) will benefit from it greatly.