Best Bosses: A Case of Emotional Economics

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Whether it is a passion for people, data, achievement, or status, everyone wants to be satisfied emotionally.  I know it’s a concept that doesn’t make for a spellbinding tale, but let’s face it, being a great manager nowadays requires a bit more modesty as it does boldness.

It’s a simple truth that emotion drives our most productive and satisfied employees.  It’s true for teams and departments, and the latest claim is that it can affect the economy of an entire organization.  It’s what stretches us to set and achieve our highest-level goals.  It regulates how hard we work and how attached we stay to an organization.  Yes, it’s true, emotion can be messy and make good managers uncomfortable, but ignore it and you’ll not only surrender your greatest power, but you’ll turn off an organization’s blood-line.

This is exactly what participants of my leadership development programs have been reporting for years.  When asked to reflect on their best bosses, it’s no surprise what people recall . . .

“I felt valued”, “My commitment went up”, “I was inspired to do more”, “I enjoyed coming to work”, “I was recognized for my expertise”, “I was trusted”, “I became more confident”, “I was coached”, and “I was cared about”.

Surprised by those testimonies?  Probably not, as you and I could make similar claims.  What is surprising, however, is the failure of many bosses to recognize how much power they have and how much is lost when they don’t use it.

The kind of power described here is not what is traditionally associated with people in charge. Not the type linked to position, status or authority.  Our best bosses are known, instead, for their interpersonal savvy; their ability to light fires inside people (as opposed to under them).  They communicate effectively — directly and openly.  They trust.  In Daniel Goleman’s words, they are emotionally intelligent.

I find it interesting that most people describe their best bosses by how they are made to feel rather than by what their manager actually says or does.  What is logged into memory is the emotion. Perhaps that is the greatest power to have as a boss, according to Ken Blanchard: “The power of influence –seen in the results we get through other people.”

We know that emotions create feelings, which drive behavior and performance.  The Gallop Organization’s study refers to this as an emotional economy.  According to the authors, Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina, “people are emotional first and because of that, they need to be emotionally engaged in order to give their best.”  They go onto to state, “The only way to tap into this economy is through human interaction– the fastest and most powerful trigger of emotional states.”

Unless employees feel positively reinforced, quality and other measures can suffer, and it will be nearly impossible to measure the loss of the disengaged and unapplied talent.

I am yet to meet a leader, who wakes up with the plan of making people miserable or with the intent of having a negative impact.  Yet, some do.  Why?  They’re confused.  Not by the results they want, but by how to get it.  Some managers, in their attempt to get the best and be the best, bring out the worst in themselves and others.

What impact are your managers having?  One resource I use to help discover this is 363 for Leaders; it’s a combined self-assessment and 360-feedback instrument.


Tom Sullivan is an Executive Leadership and Organizational Development Consultant with Pressley Ridge and founding partner and owner of ProGrowth Associates.

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