Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Leader Manages the Mood of an Organization

When I was in graduate school I interviewed the CEO of a trade association who was known in the profession as a visionary. He had adopted a unique management structure within his association, among other things. But what I remembered most about the interview was a single statement he made. He said, "It's the job of the CEO to manage the mood of the organization."

When I think about the work environments I have been in over the years, the attitudes of the staff were a direct reflection of the moods and personality of top leadership. Further, the way people behaved in the organization reflected the values of the chief executive.

In an organization I worked for years ago, the CEO believed competition was the best way for the "cream to rise to the top," and he managed the organization according to this personal value.

For example, he purposely created duplicate departments so that staff would compete to shine. It worked insofar as the fittest survived, but it also created an environment where individuals and departments refused to share information with each other in order to maintain their competitive advantage. Staff would falsely take credit for the work of others and would undercut each other doing "whatever it takes" to win.

The negative impact on the staff and on organizational efficiency seems obvious, but it also affected customer service due to confusion about which staff customers should work with since departments were duplicating efforts. Not to mention the staff customers contacted often couldn't answer their questions because they had been kept in the dark by their colleagues who were hording information for personal advantage.

On the other hand, the CEO had a strong personality, strength, unshakable confidence and provided clear direction for the organization. So, in spite of the inefficiencies and dysfunction, as an employee you felt that the organization was strong and moving forward. Thus his values combined with his personality established the "mood" of the organization.

In another company from my past, the general manager, although intelligent and highly skilled, was an unhappy person and brought his mood into the office. He clearly didn't want to be there and when he came in, neither did the rest of us. Job performance and customer service suffered. Ownership identified the problem and he was replaced by an individual that was not as intelligent or technically skilled. But he was enthusiastic, fun to be around and staff looked forward to coming to work when he was there. Profits and customer service quality quickly rose.

To effectively lead an organization, we need to be aware of our attitude and values, how they are passed down, show up in staff behavior and create the "mood" of the organization. If staff aren't demonstrating the values you would like to see, then it's probably time to take inventory of your own values and how you are demonstrating them. Likely, they're following your lead.

If staff attitudes are negative, once again it's time to take a personal attitude inventory. Does that mean as leaders we can't ever be in a bad mood when we're at the office? Yes, it does. If you can't maintain the "mood" you want the organization to have, stay home. Or at least keep your office door closed.

While goals, mission and vision statements are critical for organizational effectiveness, ultimately it's the mood of the organization that determines how effectively it moves forward. And as the leader, YOU manage the mood through your attitudes and values.

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