“Emotions determine effectiveness of leadership within companies shows PhD research by consultant at Atos Consulting”

Utrecht, 4 July 2007

Effective leadership stands or falls by the capacity of managers to show both positive and negative emotions. A good manager not only needs to be people-oriented, he must also dare to show his feelings on the work floor. Emotions play an underestimated but highly functional and sometimes even decisive role in motivating staff and gaining support during times of change – provided the behaviour of the manager reflects what staff are going through. These are the most important findings of the PhD thesis ‘Taking the lead: The role of affect in leadership effectiveness' presented to the Erasmus University last month by Frederic Damen, a consultant at Atos Consulting.

For his research, Damen questioned managers at various levels – from CEO to line manager – along with their staff. Approximately forty managers or interim managers, plus two hundred staff members, were given a questionnaire to complete. Five hundred students assisted in the research, performing tasks for actors playing the roles of fictitious managers.

The display of emotions can be a highly effective management tool, so the research showed. Emotions – whether positive or negative– have an effect on the work floor. It does matter whether the feeling the manager is communicating is active or inactive. Active emotions such as enthusiasm, but also anger, can play a highly functional role in managing and mobilising staff. Expressing such feelings clarifies matters and can be effective in inspiring staff, particularly when they are faced with change. More inactive, latent emotions, such as disappointment, are much less helpful.

Emotions as a catalyst
“Emotional leadership can play a very important role, particularly in times of crisis or when significant change is underway, for example after a merger or reorganisation. Then, especially, people need clarity and want to know where they stand. At such times, showing feelings, even strong feelings like anger, can help win a manager the backing of his staff because they feel they are being heard or are stimulated to act”, according to Damen. “Naturally a manager must also be able to display positive emotions such as enthusiasm when results are good, in order to motivate his people. However, the principle is always that the manager should stay close to what he is feeling himself and be able to put himself in his staff members' shoes.”

A few examples:

  • Rudolph Giuliani after 9-11. First he made sure that people calmed down after the initial shock of the WTC attack, afterwards he led with his emotions: angry when things went badly, very positive in response to successes.
  • The style of Gordon Ramsay. A lot of swearing when deadlines are not being met, coupled with enthusiasm when things go well.
  • Bill Clinton was known for his outbursts of rage when everything seemed to be going wrong, but he was also known as a very cheerful/enthusiastic man when things were going well. A highly effective and charismatic leader: strong economic growth in the US, detente in foreign relations and he even managed to survive the Lewinsky scandal.

Oscar van Leeuwen, CEO of Atos Consulting in the Netherlands concludes: “Within Atos Consulting, we use these insights in our leadership and Management Development programmes, particularly where emotions play an important role, such as in crisis, interim and change management. Examples are training and awareness, recognition and anticipation of leadership effectiveness, leadership development, charisma and emotions likely to be encountered on the work floor. They can also have an impact when it comes to recruitment and selection. Emotional managers can be highly effective, especially in interim posts where things need to be set up or turned around quickly.”

About Atos Origin
Atos Origin is an international information technology services company. Its business is turning client vision into results through the application of consulting, systems integration and managed operations. The company's annual revenues are EUR 5.4 billion and it employs 50,000 people in 40 countries. Atos Origin is the Worldwide Information Technology Partner for the Olympic Games and has a client base of international blue-chip companies across all sectors. Atos Origin is quoted on the Paris Eurolist Market and trades as Atos Origin, Atos Euronext Market Solutions, Atos Worldline and Atos Consulting.

About Atos Consulting
Atos Consulting, the global consulting practice of Atos Origin, is a leading provider of business, process and technology consulting services. With more than 2,500 staff globally, it focuses on delivering proven, pragmatic solutions to the telecom, manufacturing, financial services and public sectors.

For more information, or to receive a synthesis of the research:

Ingrid Clauwaert
+31 30 299 50 06
José de Vries
+31 6 30 27 26 11