Hey Leaders: Your Attitude is Contagious

Smiling Kids

As a leader, your attitude speaks volumes before a word is uttered.

And like your shadow, it follows you every where you go and you often are unaware of it.

Speaking Your Mind… Out Loud

Your attitude permeates everything about you:

  • The way you think
  • The tone of your voice
  • What words you choose
  • How you move your body
  • And all of your body language

While you may think that your thoughts and feelings are purely private, your body is mirroring and in fact is speaking your mind.

What you are thinking and feeling gets translated into your body language, and is very much like those electronic signs with a message that flashes, this time across your forehead.

Your body language actually has a larger impact on others than the words you speak.

Put it all together and you’ll find your attitude sets the tone for how people respond to you. Everyone has experienced the vibes that come off a person.

You take one look and you know whether to approach or stay away.

Feelings and Attitudes

Barsade and Gibson consider three different types of feelings that impact your attitude:

  1. Short-lived emotions
  2. Moods that last longer
  3. Personality: traits, which define a person’s overall approach to life

All three types of feelings can be contagious. And emotions don’t have to be grand and obvious to have an impact.

Subtle displays of emotion, such as a quick frown, can have an effect as well, Barsade says.

She offers this example:

“Say your boss is generally in very good humor, but you see him one day at a meeting and his eyes flash at you. Even if they don’t glare at you for the rest of the meeting, his eyes have enunciated some valuable information that is going to have you concerned, worried and off-centered for the rest of the meeting.”

Your Mood Impacts Your Performance

Your attitude sets the tone for how you respond to the people and events in your life. You know immediately when someone has a “bad attitude” because of the toxic environment it creates.

Some people are a fight waiting to happen, or a doormat waiting to be walked on. Others are optimists or very pragmatic about how they approach life.

Some Quick Questions:

  • What is your attitude toward life and your daily decisions?
  • How does this translate at work?

Your mood impacts your performance. A multitude of research studies have been done on the impact of attitude and emotion in the workplace. Nancy P. Rothbard published a paper, “Waking Up on the Right Side of the Bed:  The Influence of Mood on Work Attitudes and Performance.

In her research she examines the impact of positive and negative moods that employees had at the beginning of their workday. As you can imagine, there is a direct correlation between a positive mood and work performance.

People do better when they feel better.

In addition, her research revealed that the mood that you have at the beginning of the day sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Emotions Go Viral at Work

Walk into the office with a scowl on your face and people will catch it from you and pass it on to others.  Your emotions are contagious. We catch them from each other especially in a confined environment such as the office.

Since our relationships are predetermined by the organizational structure, we “have to” work with each other and are exposed to each other’s emotions. Rank, title, and position have multiplier effects on how contagious one’s emotions can be.

Our bosses and leaders exert a magnified impact because of their position.

Emotional Contagion

Emotional Contagion is a term that was brought to light in research done by Elaine Hatfield, Richard L. Rapson, and Yen-Chi L. Le in a paper, “Emotional Contagion and Empathy.”

Their research discussed the notion of “primitive emotional contagion” as one of the primary ways that humans understand, interact, and share feelings with each other.  Automatically and unconsciously you will tend to match the facial expressions of those around you.

There is a unique connection between the musculature of your face and your feeling state.

Smiling for Dollars

If you put a smile on your face you will tend to feel better and likewise with a frown.

In one study students were taking a test:

>>> One group had relaxed musculature and the other group wrinkled their foreheads.

>>> The group that wrinkled their forehead did not perform as well on the test.

Think of someone who brings a sense of urgency with an attitude of support contrasted with someone who brings a sense of urgency with a sense of anger or threat.

Who do you want to work for? Who do you want to be? What is your strong suite of positive attitudes you can bring to work? How can you enhance them and make them even more vibrant? What reminders can you have to trigger your positive attitudes? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Jim Peal, Ph.D. is a member of the Leadership Development Group
He partners with Leadership Effectiveness & Org Excellence departments worldwide
Email | LinkedIn | TwitterWeb

Image Sources: o5.com

15 responses to “Hey Leaders: Your Attitude is Contagious

    • Joe, you are so right, staying positive is a leadership challenge especially at “those” times stressful times. The organization looks to thier leader to see how to respond.


  1. Great article, Jim. Brings to mind the line: “the only think optimists and pessimists agree on is that optimists have better lives.” Your article reminds us that positive attitude is not only – or even primarily – for our sake alone.


  2. Pingback: When You Are Not The Leader « fuzzbytes·

  3. Pingback: Striving To Be A Real Leader » Talented HR·

    • Your article on striving to be a great leader really nails the multi faceted dimensions a high performing leader needs to embrace to be effective.


  4. I enjoyed reading this article. I believe attitude is everything. Sometimes people feel they maybe hiding a belief or way of thinking, that may be bad for the organization, but in essence they are not. Thank you for your thoughtful words.


  5. Pingback: Attitude « The Fragrant Oil Manna·

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