The Moody Leader: 4 Reasons from Neuroscience to NOT to be One

Churches, non-profits, and businesses require emotionally healthy and aware leaders. While competency, good management skills, and vision casting ability certainly matter, research now shows that emotional intelligence (EQ) profoundly impacts leadership effectiveness as well. One aspect of EQ, knowing our emotions, reinforces the idea that leaders must never be moody ones. Neuroscience gives us four reasons why.

Before I list the reasons why leaders should never be moody, here’s how I describe a moody leader.

  • Employes and followers aren’t sure what kind of mood he will bring to work.
  • When he feels anxious, which is often, he’s short with others and demanding.
  • He thrives on drama in the workplace.
  • He lacks self-awareness of how he comes across when he’s emotional.

So, here’s how neuroscience informs us about the downsides of moody leaders.

  1. Emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is the term that describes how others catch our emotions. If a leader is often moody, sour, or negative, that attitude will permeate that organization or church. I was once treated very rudely when I ordered a hamburger and fries at a hamburger joint. A few minutes later the cook yelled at the person who waited on me. At that point I realized who actually waited on me, the owner of the restaurant. His employees had ‘caught’ his bad attitude. I never returned.
  2. Uncertainty. Our brains don’t like uncertainty. When we sense it (“I wonder what kind of mood the boss will be in today?”), it sets up an avoidance response in us. Or flight-fight-freeze-appease center (the limbic system) ratchets up which results in fear, less team cooperation, and less creativity in the workplace. Moody leaders infuse uncertainty into the workplace. (My blog here describes our brain’s 3 leadership systems we should be aware of.)
  3. Mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a specialized group of brain cells that cause us to mimic goal directed behavior. For example, when we see someone yawn or smile, we tend to subconsciously yawn or smile. But such behavior is not limited to yawns and smiles. If a leader constantly frowns or furrows his brow in a disapproving way, it sets a negative tone in the workplace or the church. Yet, genuine smiles can do the opposite by encouraging a positive, productive work setting.
  4. Theory of mind. Theory of mind is a concept that says our minds can somewhat intuit what others are thinking and feeling. Although not mind reading, the process called mentalizing, helps us understand another’s mental states. Mentalizing helps us imagine and interpret their needs, desires, feelings, and goals. When a leader brings moodiness into relationships, he inadvertently leads others to intuit negative intents, purposes, or desires which that leader probably does not want his followers or employees to think or believe.

So you can see that moody leadership does not contribute to healthy teams, trust, creativity, leadership effectiveness, or cooperation.

If you think you may be a moody leader, ask someone who truly cares about you to gently remind you when you start acting moody.

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6 thoughts on “The Moody Leader: 4 Reasons from Neuroscience to NOT to be One”

  1. Pingback: Weekend Leadership Roundup - Hope's ReasonHope's Reason

  2. Thank you something to ponder and think about. PS. I’m smiling as I read this, so it’s safe you say you are as well. Once again than you.

  3. Hi Charles,
    I understand the detrimental effects of moodiness in leadership. This obviously carries over into the family. Do you have a good book on this for a young father who allows himself to moody (learned it from his father) and needs to understand it is poison in the family. He is Christian and believe he knows the problem.
    My belief is, as a manager…never be moody or subject to strong emotional swings. This should be a focus of discipline and control for a new manger…in the overall…. it is a decision. Calmness and predictability is security for your team and family. You can be angry, but always be controlled and focused with a positive-laudable objective. Never allow personal innuendo to enter the conversation- be positive, attentive (listening) and firm. As a dad we must be positive, encouraging and patient; we want our children to be focused on the task/problem at hand and not their dads emotions.
    Men, can take on this persona by virtue of decision until such time as they are what they’ve determined to be.
    Sorry for the lengthy comments —I am looking for a good article or book on the subject. Thanks

    1. Charles Stone

      Tom, well said. I don’t know any articles or books both they must exist-I’d google and or us chat gpt to see what you find.

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