What Do Successful Leaders Appeal to First - Heart or Mind?

By Carl Robinson, Ph.D. © 2008

If you ask any successful salesperson, they will tell you that all things being equal, (competing product and/or services) you need to appeal to the emotional side of your prospect's mind if you want to win them over. Salespeople who develop a good relationship with their prospects will have an edge over those who simply sell their product or service by touting its virtues. It's a variation of the old saying: "Sell the sizzle, not the steak."

According to a new study by University of Florida’s psychologist Amir Erez, reported in the latest issue of Monitor on Psychology, successful leaders similarly may well unconsciously and sometimes consciously influence the emotional side of their followers or subordinates (in the case of business leaders/executives).

According to his research, a leader’s positive mood and positive expressed emotions does have a positive impact on his/her followers/subordinates. Leaders who were rated most charismatic tended to smile and laugh more. Furthermore, their positive mood seems to spread through the group. Consequently, the researcher found that leaders who were rated as more charismatic (they smiled and laughed more) had followers who were happier as well as compared to followers of lower “charisma” rated leaders.

Erez hypothesized that people follow leaders like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Regan because “they make us feel happy and happiness is like a drug.” Consequently, they want more of it and continue following the leader as long as the drug keeps working.

You may well be thinking, does being happy correlate with business productivity and success? The answer to that question is complicated. Happy employees could be less productive because they aren’t under pressure to perform. On the other hand, a high performing leader who expects her employees to perform to the fullest of their capabilities and sets high standards, could also foster an environment where people are treated with respect, “work hard and play hard.” Furthermore, they are recognized for their efforts and generally feel happy and energized by how well appreciated they are by their boss – who, incidentally, smiles, laughs and engages them.

Leaders who are not engaging and don’t smile or laugh yet demand that their employees perform may get compliance but certainly won’t gain commitment. Furthermore, any success will probably be short term because people will only follow that kind of leader for so long before they either jump ship or sink it through sabotage or neglect.

So what’s the take-away from this? As one very successful executive once told me, “as an executive, you always have to remember that you are on stage.” Therefore, make the effort to remember to not just be all business and too serious. When you walk into the office tomorrow, remind yourself that you are walking onto a stage: smile, laugh and engage your employees. That will increase the odds that they will want to follow you = work harder for you.