Are you cheerful enough to be in charge?

SYLVIA PENNINGTON
Last updated 13:55 11/06/2014

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You're hardworking, on-the-ball and get on with your staff - but would you be a more effective manager if you tried harder to put on a happy face?

Can gloomy Eeyore types succeed at running businesses and leading teams, or will staff perform better for managers who work at being upbeat and optimistic?

Kristie Buchanan opts for the latter. She heads a team of 60 at RedBalloon, an Australian online retailer of experience gifts from cooking classes to skydiving packages, and says a boss's demeanour has a direct impact on the output of those below.

"A happier workplace is a more productive workplace and I believe that the energy of the team echoes that of the leadership," Buchanan says.

While staff will still get the job done for a sad sack chief executive, they'll go the extra mile for someone who exudes positivity.

"People will give their time to a gloomy boss but give their hearts to a cheery one," Buchanan says.

"They may give the same amount of hours to both kinds of bosses but the discretional effort and quality of that time will differ."

Exactly, says British academic and leadership consultant Professor Andrew St George, who in 2012 produced the Royal Navy Way of Leadership, a training manual for the British navy's 36,000 staff.

Cheerfulness has always been a valued leadership quality in the military because of its importance in maintaining morale and motivating the troops. And it's just as vital in the corporate arena, St George says.

"No one follows a pessimist or someone who is gloomy all the time," he says.

"In corporate life there is always an opportunity at every decision to be cheerful about it or not."

A boss's black humours inevitably become the subject of gossip, particularly in smaller groups where information and mood travel fast, and are distracting and unsettling for staff, St George says.

"Workers will tend to focus on the gloominess - it tends to make them feel uncertain and insecure, two things that cheerfulness avoids."

Conversely, don't overdose on the happy pills unless it's warranted, warns Psychology Melbourne corporate psychologist Gavin Sharp.

Chirpiness can be poorly received by staff if it's over the top or out of step with what's going on in the business.

"There is a difference between being upbeat and realistic," Sharp says.

"Being optimistic is fine; however, be careful how this is conveyed. Staff do appreciate honesty, and if delivering bad news, do this in a manner that is consistent with the news but in a way that displays a way forward for the business.

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"For general behaviour around the business, a constant upbeat attitude will soon wear thin. Be positive and optimistic, but read the room."

Making a habit of celebrating small successes and milestones, from wins in the business to staff birthdays, can help strike the right note, says Tina Tower, the founder of private tutoring chain Begin Bright.

Her company's motto is "helping to create happy, smart and confident children" and Tower says she likes to practise what she preaches - so much so that incoming employees have commented on her perkiness.

"I have had people who've said how lovely it is to work for someone who's happy," Tower says.

Occasional glumness is inevitable for every boss, but giving in, then getting on, is the key to making sure it doesn't linger too long, she says.

"You can't be 100 per cent cheerful all the time; life goes up and life comes down. You need to give yourself the chance to have a little pity party and get over it very quickly."

And when you do, don't invite your staff or share it on Facebook. If you want to dump your woes, turn to a trusted mentor outside the business who'll remind you of your goals and the bigger picture when you're done complaining, Tower says.

Want to appear more positive in front of the troops? Consider the following, says leadership consultant Andrew St George:

1. Monitor gloomy thoughts and think the opposite.

2. Imagine someone else behaving as you do - would you want to follow them?

3. Don't use email to manage or lead staff - only to convey or confirm information.

4. Praise people wherever you can, especially in public.

5. Practise mindfulness.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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