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The #1 Fatal Flaw of Uninspiring Leadersby zengerfolkman May 12, 2010

Recently I have been fascinated by the interest people have in bad news. Last year, we released The Inspiring Leader book along with a second edition of The Extraordinary Leader and a very prestigious journal expressed interest in publishing an extract from the book. I thought they might extract something about building strengths, but instead they asked to publish an extract from the chapter on the 10 Fatal Flaws. The explanation for the selection was, “Good news is not selling.”

The Number One Fatal Flaw

The focus of this blog is on the number one Fatal Flaw that keeps leaders from being inspiring: lack of energy and enthusiasm. This probably is a surprise to many people. In my experience, most people suppose that employees are simply required to perform their job well and not make any big mistakes. Some might say, “It’s not my employer’s business whether I am enthused and happy or depressed and despondent, as long as I do my job.”

Mood is Contagious

While it is true that job performance is important, there is a compelling body of research to show how a person’s mood can impact those around them. In a recent study by Fowler and Christakis, researchers looked at the impact of happiness or sadness on friends. They constructed a social network by connecting one friend to another friend and then measured the happiness or sadness of each person in the network. They found that:

  • If you have a friend that is happy, the probability that you will be happier goes up by 25%
  • Happy friends cluster together, sad friends cluster together

The problem with a person who lacks energy and enthusiasm is that their mood impacts others. They can bring others down or pick them up. Most people who are sick work hard not to spread their germs and infect others. Our moods are even more infectious.

Leaders’ Moods are Highly Contagious

So let’s look at this from a leadership perspective. What we know about leaders is that, in fact, they have far more influence than a friend on the moods of others. When we looked at leaders who were uninspiring with Fatal Flaws, we found that the employees who worked for them were only at the 9th percentile in terms of satisfaction and commitment to do a good job. This basically means that they hated their jobs and were constantly frustrated at work. We also found that 51% of the people in that group were thinking about quitting.

Every Interaction Counts

Since doing this research, I have begun thinking about the fact that every interaction I have with other people can be inspiring and building or discouraging and frustrating. We can build others up or tear them down. Many people have the impression that most of their interactions with others don’t really count, that they are neutral. They believe that there are a few times where something they say is important and they only need to be on the top of their game for those special occasions. The more I look at the data and my own interactions with others, the more I am convinced that everything counts, and the neutral interactions really count as negative.

Leaders need to be aware that every interaction can make a difference, every meeting can be inspiring, and every discussion can create a stronger commitment. When leaders understand this, they start to take advantage of every interaction. They look for ways to encourage, support, build and inspire. They become aware of the mood that they bring to the office and the implications of being discourage, angry or tired.  They understand that they have tremendous influence with other people and that every interaction counts.

How is Your Mood Impacting Your Employees?

Do you have examples of how your mood has affected your employees? Or maybe a leader has affected your mood? Do you agree/disagree? Feel free to comment.

Joe Folkman—President & Cofounder

  1. Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis Over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study Objectives, James H. Fowler, Nicholas A. Christakis , British Medical Journal 338 (7686): TBA (3 January 2009)

One Comment on “The #1 Fatal Flaw of Uninspiring Leaders”

  1. […] Your attitude matters more than everyone else’s.  As a leader, they are looking to you, watching for clues and modeling your attitude.  Remember that someone must inject the positive attitude, must smile first, and must make it ok to think about problems proactively.  If you don’t do it, who else will?  If you aren’t doing it, what are you waiting for? […]


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