Leader’s mood affects the team

Lynda St. Clair
Lynda St. Clair

Lynda St. Clair

In difficult economic times, it’s not always easy to stay upbeat, but staying positive matters more than you might realize.  A leader’s mood affects the performance of his or her team in a more complex way than simple “emotional contagion.”

That is the conclusion of a 2011 article by Nai-Wen Chi, Yen-Yi Chung and Wei-Chi Tsai in Journal of Applied Psychology.

Emotional contagion is the process by which the observation of another person’s positive or negative mood causes our own mood to become more positive or negative.

Building on earlier work by Sigal G. Barsade that verified the existence of emotional contagion in groups, Stefanie K. Johnson published a study showing that the emotions of leaders affect the emotions of those they are leading.

Chi, Chung, and Tsai looked more closely at exactly how that process works.

The researchers found that if leaders used “transformational” leadership behaviors, their positive mood had a greater impact on their team’s performance than if they did not use those kinds of behaviors.

Transformational leadership behaviors are broad in focus and include:

  • “Individualized consideration,” or paying attention to the needs of each follower and providing them with mentoring and coaching.
  • “Intellectual stimulation,” or challenging assumptions, taking risks, and seeking opinions from followers.
  • “Inspirational motivation,” or articulating an appealing vision that followers find inspiring.
  • “Idealized influence,” or acting as a role model in terms of high standards of ethical behavior

So what does this mean for nonprofit leaders?

The researchers note some practical implications:

  • Select leaders who tend to be enthusiastic and optimistic so followers can “catch” their positive mood.
  • Train leaders in emotion management, an approach that may help them better manage their moods and understand how the way they feel influences others.
  • Select team members who tend to have positive moods: Emotional contagion among peers can be very powerful.
  • Help workers understand the possibility of emotional contagion: Awareness can help them ward off bad moods, just as they ward off winter colds.
  • Hold team meetings in a comfortable place: Even little things such as temperature, lighting, and aesthetics can influence our moods.

Leaders who stay positive and inspire workers see better performance outcomes than leaders who try to “buy” better behavior with financial incentives.

Being in a positive mood not only makes leaders feel better, it makes them better leaders.  So go ahead – stop to smell the roses – it will be time well spent.


  • Barsade, S. G. (2002). The ripple effect: Emotional contagion and its influence on group behavior. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47(40): 644-675.
  • Chi, N.-W., Chung, Y.-Y., & Tsai, W.-C. (2011). How do happy leaders enhance team success? The mediating roles of transformational leadership, group affective tone, and team processes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 64(6), 1421-1454.
  • Johnson, S. (2008). I second that emotion: Effects of emotional contagion and affect at work on leader and follower outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(1): 1-19.

Lynda St. Clair is a retired management professor and co-author of Becoming a Master Manager, now in its fifth edition.

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