As leaders, we all experience stressful, less-than-stellar days at work. Even so, it is our job to realize that our attitudes have a significant impact on the people around us, and to approach tough situations with an attitude that motivates and inspires our team members.

I coached a manager recently who expressed that he was unhappy in his leadership role. He identified the following list of grievances as the reasons for his unhappiness:

  • He didn’t like his boss and felt that his boss was the reason he was asked to participate in executive coaching sessions.
  • He told us the CEO was weak and would not take a stand to deal with his bad boss.
  • He was upset about the performance of members of his team. He had taken his concerns to Human Resources, but felt HR was more supportive of his bad employees than they were of him.
  • If the above three weren’t enough to paint a nasty, negative vision of his future as a leader, he told me that the only reason he was accepting coaching was to avoid getting fired before he was able to find a new job.

I asked this leader, “How do you think your attitude about your boss, the CEO, and the HR team is impacting your team?” I was dumbfounded when he snapped back, “My attitude has nothing to do with my team.” Yikes. This leader was in major denial, and probably low on the emotional intelligence (EQ) scale.

Psychologists define attitude as a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way. Most people are aware if they don’t feel well or if they’re hungry. Few people have taken their emotional intelligence to a level where they can acknowledge at a given moment what their attitude is and how it’s impacting them and others around them. One of the greatest gifts a leader can bring to a team is the ability to acknowledge their attitude and its impact on relationships and the performance of their team.

The Chameleon Effect

It’s also important for leaders to understand the Chameleon Effect. In 1999, Tanya L. Chartrand and John A. Bargh reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that the Chameleon Effect refers to the nonconscious mimicry of the postures, mannerisms, facial expressions, and other behaviors of one’s interaction partners. In simple terms, the chameleon effect is how attitudes and behaviors rub off on people who interact with each other. It is the reason the attitude of a leader has such a significant impact on the attitudes of their employees and the productivity of their team.

The problem with a leader who has a bad attitude is that their attitude is like a virus…it spreads quickly. A bad manager can ruin the work environment and lower morale for everyone, and they are expensive to keep. When their attitude impacts employees, that attitude trickles down to the customers, who will decide to find another business with positive people to service their needs.

The greatest thing about attitude is that it’s the one thing we all have the ability to control. Victor E. Frankl said it best: “Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.” Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand it’s not what happens to you that determines your attitude, but how we decide to respond to any given situation.

Attitude is one of the hidden ingredients of a company’s culture that is impossible to measure. But, a positive attitude and workplace culture make it very difficult for others in your industry to compete. A positive attitude will have a positive impact on productivity, quality, service, innovation, and the emotional bond customers feel with your organization.

The following 8 tips will help you lead with a positive attitude and build a culture where your team members love coming to work and are proud to be a part of your team.

Develop a positive vision and set goals. Vision is a clear mental picture of the future that you can describe in words. Leaders with the right attitude have a positive vision of the future and believe strongly that they can turn the vision into a reality. Leaders with a positive vision set goals and take the daily actions needed to turn the vision and goals into a reality.

Choose positive self-talk. Your attitude is a choice. It’s impossible to think without using words, and it’s the words we say to ourselves that create our emotions and attitude. It’s difficult to have a bad attitude when you’re thinking about how blessed you are to be alive and to have wonderful family, friends, co-workers and clients in your life. Choose your words carefully, they are powerful!

Surround yourself with positive people. It’s hard to be negative about life when you only hang out with positive people. On the other hand, it is a lot more difficult to be positive when the people you spend the most time with are all negative. Remember the chameleon effect, and choose your associates carefully.

Think funny. Having the ability to think funny, laugh, and not take yourself too seriously when things go wrong helps with maintaining a positive attitude. Learn to laugh often.

Do what you love. When you spend each day doing what you love, it’s easy to have a positive attitude and infectious passion.

Stay physically fit. Exercise boosts your mood. Even if you don’t like to exercise, get up and take a quick walk. The endorphins will not only literally make you happier; they will also give you more energy to tackle challenges. When you feel good about yourself and how you look and feel, these positive thoughts lead to a positive attitude.

Stay focused on results. Every leader has been challenged with some type of personal or family problem that has a significant impact on their attitude. It may be the death of a loved one, or one of your kids acting out. It’s easy to let these negative feelings impact your attitude and drag you down. Instead, stay focused on achieving positive results at work. The only thing worse than feeling bad about your home life is combining it with poor results at work.

Listen to others. If you listen and observe closely, you can gauge the morale of your team. If the team is flat or down, it may be related to your attitude. On the converse, when the team is up and highly motivated, there is also a good chance it is related to your positive attitude. Listen, observe and determine what attitude you want to project to your team.

As a leader, you have an obligation to role model a positive attitude for your employees. Take mindful steps to achieve a positive attitude, and watch the improved morale and success of your team follow.

The power of your attitude is one of the themes in my new book, Why Leaders Fail and the 7 Prescriptions for Success. The book is now available for pre-order here.