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ATD Blog

Positive Leaders Spread Productivity

By and

Mon Mar 04 2013


Everyone wants happy, productive employees. But that’s not easy, mainly because you can’t make people positive or happy—only they can.  However, they can catch positivity from a leader. It’s as if positive leaders spread a “healthy” virus.

Research by social scientist and professor Robert Cialdini in his landmark book, Influence, indicates that authority is one of six major influencers in our lives (Reciprocity, Commitment/Consistency, Consensus, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity). We stop when a cop signals us to pull over. We take medication that the doctor orders. Authority is a kind of high-order influencer. In one experiment with pilots in a simulator, the pilots were told by experimenters to make a clearly catastrophic maneuver within the first few minutes of the simulation to see if any of the crew members would say something to the pilot. But, 25% of the crews said nothing!  Makes me want to consider taking a train! There are numerous historical and business examples where authority proves to be a powerful motivator, for good and bad.


What’s more, our brains are wired with a built in WiFi system called the amygdala that senses threats or rewards.  When a leader enters a room, heck even the building, the amygdalas of subordinates light up, and the closer the leader gets, the more power bars of reception we pick up with our WiFi brains. And if the boss is in a good mood, we register “reward” and smile, relax and are usually more productive. However, when he or she’s in a bad mood, threat registers high. Leaders literally infect us. Positive bosses spread positivity like a “healthy” virus that spreads quickly. What’s more, research by Gallup tells us that positively engaged people produce roughly 30% more than disengaged, unhappy, or indifferent ones.  Not bad!  

Steve Gladis is the author of an upcoming book this summer, The Positive Leader: How Positivity and Happiness Change the Leadership Game_. He also writes a leadership blog:_ Survival Leadership.

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