Positive Emotions and Positive Culture

To organize is to order. In organizations there has long been a bias against emotions. This is particularly true in firms dominated by people who are trained and rewarded for analytic expertise. In such organizations there tends to be an enormous premium on logical analysis and control. Emotions are seen as dangerous. They can lead to impulsive, illogical decisions. In such firms people tend to see the value in dealing with the “hard issues.” They see little payoff in dealing with the “soft issues.” The soft issues, they are certain, do not lend themselves to measurement, control and progress.

The problem is that in such organizations the cultures are usually unhealthy. The human system is usually rife with dysfunctional behaviors, and the problems are usually intensifying while they are being systematically denied.

The fact is that emotions are real. Feelings of sadness, fear, anger, irritation, scorn, contempt, embarrassment, guilt, and shame determine behavior. They create the culture in which everyone must live and work, and less than optimal performance is associated with such emotions. Managers do not understand this but leaders do.

Leaders pay great attention to emotions. They work to stimulate feelings of appreciation, gratitude, trust, closeness, concern, compassion, love, confidence, pride, contentment, interest, curiosity, hope, optimism, wonder, awe, joy, happiness, fun and amusement. Such emotions are associated with optimal performance.

A primary task of leaders is to create positive emotions. Analytic expertise is essential to effective organizing. Yet if people are expert only in analytics, if they cannot create positive emotions, they are greatly handicapped and the organization suffers. For them the soft issues are the very core of their challenge. The soft issues are the hard issues from which they continually flee. In great organizations people tend to both the hard and the soft.

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