What if we shared that you as a leader set the scene for innovation? If you want more creativity and innovation, you must begin with your own mood.
Think back to a time when you had to work with someone that was in a negative mood. Maybe they were frustrated, resentful, fearful or maybe they just didn’t seem to care about you or what you were working on? How was it to work with, or report to someone in a mood like this?
Now consider the opposite. Someone you worked with that was upbeat. Someone with a can-do attitude who made you feel you could do it too. Someone who could accept what was happening, no matter how crazy and still find a way through it. How was it to work with, or report to someone in a mood like this?
Now think about the ‘conditions’ that were created – and think about how creative both sets of circumstances made you feel? It’s obvious that the more constructive and positive leader creates a mood that others naturally draw closer to.
What if you knew how to generate this feeling for your team? What would change? What conditions might you create for them to innovate and how important is this for the future you’re leading into?
Moods and emotions can be regarded as predispositions for action. As a leader, you are always acting from some emotional state. Some moods and emotions predispose or open you towards certain actions and others have the opposite effect. What we mean is that some moods close you to options and possibilities because they affect your capacity to engage and connect – when you most need to.
Moods are the predispositions for action you recurrently find yourself in. Moods have a lot to do with the narratives and stories you tell yourself as a leader and more crucially, the narratives you recurrently find yourself in.
For example, say you have a story about yourself ‘not being that smart’, or ‘not good with people’. This is not really something you tell others out loud, but it is something that bubbles away under the surface, especially in key moments when you need to think fast or engage with others to produce an outcome. This story or narrative plays out over time, making you reluctant to take the lead and reluctant to engage in front of others for the sake of being exposed to your major concern. Each time this happens, you feel like you’re slipping backwards on the leadership stakes, but you really wish you could move forward. Each time, you get a little more frustrated and you feel like part of you wants to break free but another part of you just doesn’t know how. You feel resentful and resigned to the fact that you’re just a ‘B grade’ performer, and you settle for ‘B grade’ roles. Over time, this becomes a part of how you show up as a leader, and you see others respond to your mood in a largely negative way. This is how moods manifest.
Let’s say the opposite. Say you have a story like ‘I can do it’ and ‘I will always figure it out’. Once again, it’s not something you say out loud, but something that manifests at key moments when you need to be a great learner, take on something new, or lead into the unknown and make a big decision. A narrative like this creates a very different mood. When new opportunities arise, you can leverage a narrative like this to embrace what’s happening and adopt a mood of ambition and determination. Over time, this becomes a part of your identity and those around you are drawn close as followers eager to learn and be a part of the thing you’re creating.
The thing is this. Moods are generated by the way you ‘language’ or talk about yourself and how you believe the story you have about yourself will play out in your future. If you can identify that this very narrative or story is not so constructive, then you can change it.
We all have a story or narrative. You have a version of who you think you are and how you feel you ‘should be’, and this is not something you created recently. It represents the sum of all of your experiences. It reflects the story you were born into and the social and cultural context within which you lived. It reflects all of your experiences to date that have shaped the person you know yourself to be.
The way you see the world and the corresponding mood you generate shape your experience as a leader and the results you’re able to achieve with your team. The mood you generate from the story you tell yourself shapes your world and your experience as a leader and the results you are able to achieve with your team.
If you change your story, you shift your mood. This is the ground where innovation can arise.
So, can you just change your story? And how do you do this?
You can actually overcome, make peace with and shift your narrative or story altogether.
Try these steps to shift your narrative and create a constructive mood for yourself and your team:
Step 1 – Understand your unhelpful narratives
It’s helpful to understand your unhelpful narratives and the concerns that are present for you. These emerge at key moments where you’re provoked or feel that something that’s important for you is not being taken care of. These concerns sound like, ‘I don’t belong’, ‘I’m unworthy’, ‘I fear failure’, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am unsafe’, ‘I am an imposter’ and ‘I am incompetent’. There are more. See if you can identify the storyline that emerges for you in your key moments and see if you can identify the impact for you and for others.
Step 2 – Notice your less helpful moods in these moments
Identify where and how your unhelpful narrative plays out for you in key moments. Do you go quiet, get aggressive, seek to get in control or some other less constructive behaviour? What are the implications of this? How does this impact those around you? In these key moments, how would you describe your mood? How often does this mood emerge and are you more or less influential when your unhelpful story produces an equally unhelpful mood?
Step 3 – Make a declaration for change
If you notice that some aspect of your mood and behaviour has negative impacts for you and others, is this something you’re willing to change? If so, then it’s helpful to make what we call a ‘declaration’. That is, a statement of future intent that has you focused on being different in these key moments of influence and focused on catching yourself in key moments where you tend to be negatively affected by your narratives. A declaration can sound like “I’m going to stay present in moments of uncertainty where I don’t know the answer”. A declaration like this will help you catch a key moment, breathe, stay tuned in to the situation and avoid jumping to a conclusion that diminishes you and others.
Step 4 – Identify ‘constructive’ behaviours and bring these to life in key moments
As we just identified, catching yourself in a key moment and enacting a different behaviour can prevent you from going down your old habitual pathway. This might mean noticing your feelings (and body) when you’re getting angry, or when you feel you want to withdraw and instead, identifying a behaviour (and a corresponding storyline) that makes you want to ‘stay’. Something like ‘just hang in there, breathe and look for what’s possible’ can have you transcend key moments when you might otherwise have been prone to react. This gives you access to the moods of acceptance and presence. Or ‘I wonder what’s possible if I just ask questions to discover their point of view?’ which gives you access to the moods of curiosity and wonder. This is where moods come in very handy!
Step 5 – Cultivate a new narrative and a new mood.
Moods and narratives are never separate. You can create a new narrative that better serves you and in bringing this to life, this can generate a more constructive mood. The more you live, embody and express your new narrative, the more this comes to life for you. It takes focus, effort and patience. Shaking off an old narrative is a very deliberate process and identifying and living into a more constructive one is equally deliberate. It will require daily practice, setting intention, identifying moments where you’re prone to feed your old storyline and shifting yourself to focus on a new and more helpful one. It will involve mindfulness practice, courage, patience, persistence and determination. It will involve understanding and knowing those small behaviours that really create the space for you to choose your new narrative in moments you most need to. It may require you to build support structures around you that reinforce the direction you’re heading and over time, diminish former ‘ways’ of being and behaving.
A new narrative should align with the version of leader you most wish to be. In this, both narrative and mood are instrumental to how you show up as a leader and how you create the space and context for your people to innovate. There are skills and practices leaders can employ to cultivate constructive moods within teams and entire organisations. These are the skills of the Liberated Leader.