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Chip Conley on Leadership: CEO as a Chief Emotions Officer

Written by: on  May 16, 2011

Further to our introduction to Chip Conley, inspirational CEO of the Joie de Vivre boutique hotel chain and author of Peak , in this week’s posting we focus on his belief that for truly enviable leadership in the 21st century, the most enviable CEOs interpret their job acronym as ‘Chief Emotions Officer’.

Chip suggests ‘While execution is still a fundamental skill of the best (chief) executives, we no longer are purely executing mechanistic, industrial organizations’. If I think of some of the most successful organisations that either myself, family or friends play/ed a part in, it is those that have fostered great relationships, trust, respect, empowerment, personal growth and pride within the company culture . These are emotion and experience-based, the less tangible elements of an enviable workplace. Cultural rather than contractual, this is the psychological contract of employment. This is what creates high performance, loyalty, brand ambassadorship and outstanding in/external customer service. Because I want to.

Chip wrote in his Huffington Post article:

‘In this knowledge era, execution is all about people: how to harness and inspire the potential of those we work with. And, at the heart of people are our emotions, the mysterious internal weather that either propels or penalizes us. After 24 years of being a CEO, I’ve come to realize that the best amongst us are truly Chief Emotions Officers as we are the “emotional thermostats” for our organizations with studies showing that a typical leader has 50-70% influence over the work climate of their team.’


One of the most common conversations I have with newly promoted team leaders, is how to handle the team member who walks in the office and has the power to bring the team down to gloom within three seconds of their “good morning” response.  (My favourite being the one where someone replied “is it?”)

The team leader normally hasn’t dared broach it with the person yet for fear of creating more tension and upset, but have definitely observed the impact it is having on team morale and attitude for the day. Yes, it is the leader’s duty to handle this. Having the balls to tackle this is definitely part of the role. It normally boils down to the individual’s lack of self-awareness and through gentle humour and a ‘and how are you, really?’ chat over a coffee one day away from the office can work wonders as an early intervention.

Whatever your level of leadership role, being emotionally literate is good for the workplace.  Chip references how Daniel Goleman for 15 years now that emotional intelligence (EQ) represents two-thirds of the success of business leaders as compared to only one-third coming from either IQ or the leader’s transferable experience. Certainly, the leader who recognises the You, as well as the I, in how ‘We’ interact seems to get more from their teams.

Chip also cites Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis,  as well as a few other academics, has shown that our emotions are contagious. ‘When we have the flu, our colleagues feel comforted that we stay at home in order not to spread the misery. Yet, when so many of us have caught the “fear” at work — especially in economically turbulent times — there’s no sane corporate voice warning us of the risks of how our emotions can spread and threaten the well-being of those in our organizational petri dish. The ultimate inoculation for fear is a great corporate culture… their leaders are emotionally attuned to what’s going on around them and they cleanse the company through transparent communication or other tactical means to help employees feel recognized and engaged.’


5 experiments to become  an Enviable ‘Chief Emotions Officer’ in your workplace:

  • Recognise that emotions do not get ‘in the way’ of performance, morale and success…they are what underpins it. The absence of ‘emotion’ is actually the presence of positive feelings. Observe the emotions present at your next team meeting, are they more/less positive than at the last one?
  • If you lead a team it is your responsibility to handle emotions that impact others in the team, a light but assertive approach on a one-to-one basis can work well. As Chip calls it, be an ‘emotion weather forecaster’. Is there a conversation to be had in your workplace?
  • Likewise, be literate and aware about your own emotions.  Nothing kills positivity like the boss walking in the office in a bad mood. It is pretty difficult to be more motivated than the leader. How motivating will you be this week?
  • Chip shows us how ‘intangible’ morale and motivation levels have a tangible impact on performance in the workplace.  If there is a flu epidemic you would expect to see increased absence levels. Is there a fear or lethargy epidemic infecting your teams? If it is coming from your managers then best call an upbeat planning meeting to get everyone geared up and focused on future plans and success goals. If your Board sneezes, who catches the cold?
  • How does gender or age make a difference to how emotions are experienced and transacted in the workplace? What are your observations?

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