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Leading by Example: Why Happy Leaders Matter

We’ve all experienced a sick coworker in the office or even as students having a sick peer in our class. They show up coughing and sneezing and you think “oh wow, this is going to spread like wildfire.” Sure enough, within a day or so, other coworkers or peers come down with the same symptoms. Recently, we’ve all started pushing more for anyone who doesn’t feel well to take those sick days to avoid spreading it to others.  

But germs aren’t the only things that are contagious. So are negative attitudes and feelings of frustration. These sentiments are especially contagious when the person feeling this way is the leader of an organization or team. So, leaders, how can you take care of your and your team’s mental and emotional well-being?

Self-Care Applies to Everyone

It can be challenging to maintain a positive demeanor day in and day out. We all have bad days but depending on how you address those aspects that make it ‘bad’ you can either improve the day going forward or sacrifice it altogether. As a leader, you are balancing the priorities of your team, your own wellness, and the expectations of your managers. There’s a reason that airlines tell us to put our oxygen masks on before helping those around us. If you aren’t at your best, how can you help your team be at theirs? Take those mental health days, prioritize checking in with yourself, and schedule some activities that bring you joy. These can all increase your likelihood of having positive days that you can then share with your team.

Effects of Happy Leaders

In the same way that negativity can impact employee engagement and wellbeing, the reverse is true for positivity. There is power in positivity and it can permeate a whole organization, but it needs to start somewhere. We know that employees who are happier and more engaged exert 57% more effort and a lot of their happiness depends on the environment they are working in. Leaders who spread positivity, check in with teams on mental well-being, and are generally supportive can foster growth and promote happier teams. According to Associations Now, “wellness efforts succeed best when leaders demonstrate their full investment in them.”

How to Spread Happiness

- Walk the talk by creating a positive environment for your employees. Try not to let your negativity spill over onto your team. If you’re having a rough day, take care of yourself first so you can be the best version of you for your team. Speak positively to them and support them in their work whether through words of affirmation or offering help if they need it.

- Include your team in plans and decision-making. George Karseras, author of 'Build Better Teams: Creating Winning Teams in the Digital Age,' advises, “start by building cognitive trust by ensuring the team is united on why it exists, the goals it shares, and the plans required to get there.” Your team wants to know that they and the role they fill matter to you and the organization. Involving them in creating a path towards success and valuing their input is a great way to reassure them of their importance.

- Build individual rapport with them through formal and informal interactions. Show them that you are invested in them as individuals and not just as employees in an organization. Nic Marks, who is the creator of the Happy Planet Index, also advises leaders to have one-to-one meetings with team members at least once a month. This may seem like a lot compared to annual reviews but with time it’s become apparent that these far and few between wellness surveys aren't as indicative of employees' active committed enthusiasm.  

- Surprise and recognize them for the work and effort they put in daily. Whether big or small, accomplishments deserve to be acknowledged and in doing so, you run the chance of more progress being made because they see that you notice. It can be in those one-on-one meetings that you praise them for a job well done, or take the team for lunch if they accomplish a milestone. Whatever it is, show them you are paying attention and that you appreciate them.

Mental Well-Being for the Whole Team

A sneeze is as contagious as a smile, and even though it sounds cliché, it’s time that we start understanding its power. Whatever position you have at an organization, you have an impact, through your work and your presence. Taking care of your mental well-being is not only important for your overall health, but also for the health of your teammates. Being a leader means being an example and showing your team that you value them and they should value themselves too.