Apparently in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, rescue dogs faced a massive challenge. But it wasn’t the rubble and death that affected them: It was their handlers’ distress.
While some would balk at the comparison, managers might consider their work teams much like these amazing dogs. The rescue dogs are highly trained, highly skilled, dedicated workers — and after 9/11 they proved themselves to be astoundingly resilient and perseverant. And, as do workplace teams, the managers’ moods had a significant effect on their performance in the short and long term.
We can make the same analogy, perhaps even more pointedly, about a teacher and classroom, parent and children, or even friend and other friends. Emotions are, fundamentally, signals of risk and opportunity. We transmit these messages unconsciously, automatically, and continuously — and our emotions affect those around us. Be they human, or canine.
In this interview Terry Gross asks Cynthia Otto, who worked with rescue dogs at ground zero, about how the dogs were affected by the experience. Otto explains that the dogs were not particularly traumatized by the rubble or sirens or even broken bodies — but that as those stressors played on the handlers, the dogs became stressed by their managers’ distress.
We tend to think of emotions as something internal — private — and our own business. When we learn more about the way emotions actually function between people (and even between species), a different picture emerges.
If we add an understanding of emotional capital — the fact that feelings have a bottom line value in brand, talent, and customer experience — then this transmission of emotion because an essential ingredient in the meaning of leadership.