YS Learn: How entrepreneurs’ anxiety and moods affect teams and what they can do to bring in productive behaviour
There has been no bigger cliché and yet no bigger truth than the phrase - “Entrepreneurship is a highly stressful and tough job.”
There is a lot expected from entrepreneurs - drive, passion, resilience, strength, emotional intelligence, empathy, maturity, and increasingly, even vulnerability, along with putting up a brave face for your team, customers, and investors in times of challenges.
Image credit: Daisy
While it may seem like asking for too much from one individual, it nevertheless comes as a part of the job. In your role as an entrepreneur, you cannot let your current mood reflect the state you are in. Though this may seem to be an Herculean task, the fact is the mood of entrepreneur directly reflects on the team and its productivity.
Puroitree Majumdar, Clinical Psychologist and Expert,, the mental health startup, says,
“Entrepreneurship is a constant rollercoaster, whether it’s about designing the “perfect” product, finding the right market fit, procuring funds or managing teams. Most entrepreneurs I have worked with, usually pull a 12-hour work day. This severely impacts their work-life balance and leaves them with little time to take care of themselves. It’s also important to remember that they don’t grow into these roles slowly but are thrown into them headfirst. Most entrepreneurs, when they start up, have to wear multiple hats, which add to the strain as well. Additionally, making time for their families, and loved ones can be a significant challenge further impinging on their emotional resources.”
It’s all in the mood
A Harvard Business Review report says, “A cranky and ruthless boss creates a toxic organisation filled with negative underachievers who ignore opportunities; an inspirational, inclusive leader spawns acolytes for whom any challenge is surmountable. The final link in the chain is performance: profit or loss.”
The report goes on to explain that a leader’s moods and ensuing behaviour are drivers of a business’s success. It added that it doesn’t mean one has to fake it, but be optimistic, and authentic and choose the right actions to get their teams to act in the same way, creating a chain reaction.
Like they say, it all begins at the top. The report said: “The implication is that primal leadership demands more than putting on a game face every day. It requires an executive to determine, through reflective analysis, how his emotional leadership drives the moods and actions of the organisation, and then, with equal discipline, to adjust his behaviour accordingly.”
It pointed out that the moods start at the top and move fastest because everyone is watching the boss. “They take their emotional cues from him. Even when the boss isn’t highly visible - for example, the CEO who works behind closed doors on an upper floor - his attitude affects the moods of his direct reports, and a domino effect ripples throughout the company.”
It is all in the biology
However, moods aren’t topics that are openly discussed in organisations. They are believed to be deeply personal and while may make for conversations by the water cooler, nobody wants to understand why moods are what they are.
There, nevertheless, is hard scientific and biological research that displays the implications of moods. You can begin by blaming the human brain. The limbic system of the brain, the emotional centre, works as an open-loop nature. That means, it primarily depends on external sources to manage itself.
Therefore, people rely on their connections with others to determine moods. The HBR states, “The open-loop limbic system was a winning design in evolution because it let people come to one another’s emotional rescue - enabling a mother, for example, to soothe her crying infant.
Research in intensive care units has shown, for example, the comforting presence of another person not only lowers the patient’s blood pressure but also slows the secretion of fatty acids that block arteries. Another study found that three or more incidents of intense stress within a year (for example, serious financial trouble, being fired, or a divorce) triples the death rate in socially isolated middle-aged men, but it has no impact on the death rate of men with many close relationships.
This primarily means - the open-loop design of the limbic system lets others change our physiology and emotions.
This in times like these get increasingly harder. Puroitree adds, “Anxiety and insecurity around job stability, taking care of family in a time of financial uncertainty, and keeping one's skills relevant in the workplace has also been a concern. Changes in management have also been cited as a concern, and a sense of having to constantly adapt to new policies and new ways of doing things where the status quo keeps changing.”
The report added, “As far back as 1981, psychologists Howard Friedman and Ronald Riggio found that even completely nonverbal expressiveness can affect other people. For example, when three strangers sit facing one another in silence for a minute or two, the most emotionally expressive of the three transmits his or her mood to the other two - without a single word being spoken. The same holds true in the office, boardroom, or shop floor; group members inevitably “catch” feelings from one another.”
Bringing in resonance
While all this sounds great, with a pandemic and global financial crisis, zero revenues and internal rife, it becomes practically impossible for the founder to be in a chirpy mood at all times. What becomes important here is to bring in moods and behaviours that can match the situation, with a mix of optimism in it.
Explaining this, the report said, “They respect how other people are feeling -even if it is glum or defeated - but they also model what it looks like to move forward with hope and humour.”
Puroitree says, “COVID-19 has brought in uncertainty for a lot of us, especially for entrepreneurs and leaders. Whether the startups are working in the Indian market or globally, the ongoing financial crisis has impacted several organisations. Many have had to explore how they will survive during these times and make tough decisions about downsizing, exploring alternate products, and more. It has definitely led to a mental health crisis for many, increasing doubts and anxiety for some, while others have gone into denial mode. Many are experiencing a lack of control, which further adds to their burden, often leading to burnout or mental fatigue.”
In such cases, resonance is tough to achieve, how one can go about it is with to start with self-awareness - the ability to read your own emotions. This helps in understanding your strengths and limitations, and gauge your own mood. Next comes self-management - the ability to manage your emotions and work with honesty.
There are days when no matter how much you want you to be in a good mood, you just cannot - self-management will allow you to understand how occasional bad moods don’t destroy the day.
To bring in resonance, leaders also need to bring in social awareness, primarily, empathy and organisational intuition. “Socially aware executives do more than sense other people’s emotions, they show that they care. Further, they are experts at reading the currents of office politics,” explained the HBR report.
Apart from these, a leader should also most importantly work on relationship management - the ability to communicate clearly and convincingly, build strong personal bonds, and disarm conflicts.
Building the right resonance
Puneet Manuja, Co-founder of YourDOST, a mental health startup, it would help entrepreneurs to carry their "SVAG" with them -
Support - create a support system they can confide in (if not friends, family or professional help).
Vulnerable – be open and expressive about their vulnerabilities
Aware - be aware of themselves and their body, especially the signals it gives when it’s not able to handle it, so that you can intervene.
Gratitude - with all the pressure and negative thoughts, preferably the start/end of the day - winding up must happen with gratitude to help activate the neural pathways and release happy hormones.
“What I personally try and do is maintain discipline to try and keep the day under control. This may not always be possible, but I still try my best. If I'm ever in need of support, I reach out to and confide in Richa, YourDOST's Co-founder, and CEO. There's always a stress-buster available in the form of my pet, Penny. I play with her whenever I feel the need to unwind or distract myself. It allows me to take a step back and rethink. Finally, I try to be as mindful as possible and be aware of myself and signals from my body, and seek help wherever required,” explains Puneet.
To build the right resonance, psychologists suggest five step process of rewiring the brain towards emotionally intelligent behaviours. The HBR report states - The process begins with imagining your ideal self and then coming to terms with your real self, as others experience you. The next step is creating a tactical plan to bridge the gap between ideal and real, and after that, to practice those activities. It concludes with creating a community of colleagues and family - call them change enforcers - to keep the process alive.