Emotional Agility: Key to being an Effective Boss

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Emotional Agility: Key to being an Effective Boss

Does it seem like most employees are “straddling two different worlds”? One world is your most authentic persona – the person that your family and friends know you as and the other is the “Career or work persona”. The one that you put on everyday when you enter the office building.

Thirty years ago scholars began talking about “emotional labor” to describe jobs in which positive attitudes are crucial. These tend to be high customer contact positions such as flight attendants and hotel desk clerks. Emotional labor is based on the idea that positive emotional displays beget similar reactions in customers and, ultimately, a happier bottom line. To some extent, this trend toward a focus on positive employee emotions is laudable. The antiquated command-and-control system is being replaced by a “profit from the positive” attitude.

Companies like Zappos have ridden the positivity wave to stardom. The data seem to support the wisdom of this trend: studies show that happy workers are better organizational citizens, have fewer workman compensation claims, are less likely to take sick days or to quit, and even earn more money. When it comes to the emotional labor hypothesis, those rosy moods seem to affect others. Happy workers earn superior customer and manager evaluations.

The secret of emotional labor is that it is the organization, and not the individual, who is in charge of feelings. Business leaders set the cultural norms for acceptable displays of emotions and, just as often, displays such as smiling are part of a carefully written script. This means that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what a person is truly feeling, employees are required to play nice and pretend every interaction is like the best date ever!
The result is day-to-day suppression of authentic emotional experiences. Researchers have found that while displaying positive emotions offers workers an opportunity for feeling personal accomplishment the suppression of negative feelings leads to emotional exhaustion.

Companies that push for positivity unwittingly create a culture in which workers simply don’t have an outlet for the very real negative feelings that bubble up from time to time. The result? Office backstabbing, water cooler gossip, off-the-clock complaining and turnover. Researchers have also discovered that instead of being a buzz-kill skeptics are crucial to vetting bold ideas that actually translate to market success.
Fortunately, there is a solution: emotional agility. Emotional agile people are those who are highly attuned to the fact that success is about using the correct emotional resources in each unique situation. They are good at viewing the world from other people’s perspectives and because of this know that feeling positive is not the only way to produce positive feelings in someone else. When a customer appears worried, for instance, over choosing the perfect outfit for a job interview an emotionally agile employee won’t try to cheer them up. Instead, they commiserate as long as needed to help solve the problem.

In 2008 Joanne Reid published a study on “The Resilient Leader”, published in the iVEY Business Journal, to determine what qualities create resilient, emotionally intelligent organizations. She met with leaders of eight Canadian organizations, as well as other experts. They are: Carol Stephenson, Dean, Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario; Bruno Biscaro, President, Accucaps Industries; Geoff Smith, President and CEO, EllisDon; Bill Wilkerson, Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO, The Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health; Michael Koscec, President, Entec Corporation; Dr. Edgardo Perez, MD, CEO and President, Homewood Health Center and Homewood Corporation; Andy Moysiuk, Managing Partner, HOOPP Capital Partners; Victoria Hubbell, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Employee Services, Hospitals of Ontario Pension Plan; Lyn Heward, executive, Cirque du Soleil, and the author of The Spark; Angela Coke, ADM of Ontario’s Ministry of Government Services; and Dr. John LaPorta, CEO of Thames Valley Children’s Centre.Their observations and insights on the success factors, challenges and future expectations prove that the more open an organization – the more emotionally healthy the workplace is. (See study here:http://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/the-resilient-leader-why-eq-matters/).

Leaders are in a unique position to demonstrate this more sophisticated, flexible, and effective approach to emotional labor. It is time to move from simple-minded approaches to positivity and allow workers to be whole, psychologically speaking. Employees who can shift between amiability with eager customers, compassion with frustrated customers, and worry when a situation with a colleague – will be more successful both on and off the job.

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