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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Leaders Who Incite Emotional Calming or Emotional Rioting

Watch a young child (a toddler), fall, and you’ll witness something that happens in business all the time. The child immediately looks at the mother, father, or guardian. If the caretaker expresses mild concern, even a kind of lightheartedness—assuming it was not a major accident—then the child gets up, dusts off and heads for the original destination. However, if the caretaker reacts in a highly charged emotional way (perhaps by making a very distressed face or exclaiming something in a high pitched, fearful voice) the child will often start crying, in an attempt to match and react to the emotion coming toward him or her.


Leaders have an invisible megaphone permanently attached to their voice box. This unseen amplifier is called positional authority. We are all wired to listen to authority with much greater intensity than similar words coming from a colleague. Of course there are exceptions to this, say when you don’t trust your boss or don’t know the situation well. But on the whole, leaders have their voices amplified without ever intending to do so. Therefore, in uncertain times if a leader passes down the emotion from above, with the same intensity it came down to him or her just by passing it down the line, it intensifies the message.

So, it’s important for leaders to learn how to deflect, not ignore much of which comes down from above. Uncertain economical times like these are a perfect example. Investment advisors or bankers who calm people’s fears are far more likely to have clients who make good, rational decisions. Whereas, advisors, who are anxious themselves, will exacerbate already skittish investors, who might well make poorer (stress-induced) decisions.

Leaders can cause emotional calm or potentially emotional riots
just by the way they pass down information through their invisible microphones.

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