Tim Wigham
July 14, 2021

INSIGHTS ARTICLE: Exceed - Tim Wigham: Moodset for Excellence



Moodset for Excellence
I’m in a good mood, how about you? If I ask you to think about what affects your mood, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the weather? Or the family? Or work? Or progress? Or perhaps nothing comes to mind because you’re not in the mood!
Do you ever wonder how you can set a more consistently positive mood? And when I asked that, did you think of your own mood, or your impact on the mood of others?
When it comes to striving for excellence, my experience and research has shown that whilst we understand the need for some kind of performance methodology, and we have probably heard about the importance of growth-mindset, very few of us understand the significance of mood or moodset. Mood is the magic in this mix and it helps us unleash mastery.
Standing on the shoulders of giants I recently proposed a simple model to help project managers better master the people component of project delivery. The model balances mindset, method, and mood, while integrating leadership, teamwork, and discipline.
Mood or moodset is where I consistently find so-called “low hanging fruit” or the opportunity for small changes when assessing team climates ahead of transformation campaigns. This fruit could be welfare, recognition, respect, recreational facilities, travel issues, career growth, a voice in the conversation! Closer attention to these dials on the performance dashboard can be a gamechanger for teams, but often these climate indicators are ignored or not even solicited by leaders.
Has anyone here been in a family when someone was in a bad mood?
I like to think of myself as a pretty positive person, but I got some contradictory feedback from my children last year. I thanked my younger daughter for giving me “space” to workout whenever I got home from work, and she replied that it was a win-win because she had no intention of catching my grumpy mood every evening. Perspective is reality! I realised then that my kids were often avoiding me because of my grumpy mood.
My wife confirmed that barking orders when I arrived home might work for the dog, but it was not appreciated by the human contingent. The atmosphere I was creating at home was affecting my kids' willingness to be around me. My impact on the mood at home was effectively negative, and the kids were walking on eggshells around me to try and avoid an upset!
On the flip side, I noticed that my wife loves listening to Dolly Parton playlists so when things were a little tense and she was clearly at the end of her tether one evening, I quietly asked Amazon Alexa to play Dolly Parton. The shift in my wife's mood from beat-up to up-beat was almost instant. The glass of Villa Maria may have helped as well.
I then applied this strategy during car journeys with the kids
let them choose the playlist to get them in a better mood. It worked. Creating a climate in the car that improved the mood of the majority, helped the journey and got us happier to the destination.
During lockdown I watched the Netflix series "The Playbook". It pulls back the curtain on how some of the greatest sports coaches of recent times have created exceptional performance climates to inspire excellence and evoke flow for their players and teams. I noted the 27 ideas and distilled them to a top five start with the truth, always be the underdog, seize our opportunities, together as a trusting team, forward to the finish.
Two great books I read recently included "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle, and "Primed to Perform" (and the idea of TOMO - total motivation) by two former McKinsey consultants. The big takeaways were these: Purpose is primary, vulnerability and psychological safety are key, while play and potential need to be promoted a lot.
Learning: My impact on the family mood as a parent and leader is 100%. A grumpy mood in a confined space spreads faster than COVID-19!
Learning: Play! Playlists can change the mood in an instant. Playbooks for team performance climate are game-changers for high-performance teams. Why not develop your own? Playful is the best motivator for TOMO (total motivation) - science backs this up. Play is the number one best way to unlock creativity and morale!
For the last 15 years I have been a performance guide to campaign teams in the energy sector. My reflection on moodset at home in 2020 took me right back to 2008 when I was on a drillship which was two hours by helicopter off the west coast of Africa. There had been a change of onshore leadership in the wells team we were supporting and unfortunately the negative impact that change had on the prevailing mood of the offshore team was palpable.
Daily calls felt like the proverbial witch-hunt, heads dropped, body language was slumped, and an announcement that the new leader would be visiting the rig caused alarm and angst amongst the crew.
The depressed mood had a negative impact on safety and performance. I remember reflecting on the fact that micromanagement and dictatorship was causing more mistakes partly due to fear. A team on eggshells once again.
When the chopper landed on deck with our visitor, the accommodation area of the rig was like the Marie Celeste. You would have been forgiven for wondering if the crew had deserted ship. No one wanted to see or speak to the "Grim Reaper", so the well site leader was left on his own to host his boss.
Everyone on the rig was miserable for the duration of the visit. But something interesting happened. When this new leader tried to make sweeping changes to the way things were done, the offshore team finally pushed back. It was like dealing with a playground-bully. When the offshore team stood up to him and refused to make changes to a proven and previously performing group, he backed away. The offshore mood lifted with his chopper off the rig, and in fact within months he had been moved on elsewhere. Morale and mood rebounded.
Screenshot - 2021-07-13T211617.884
Learning: Common adversity can divide, and unite a team. Commitment to just-cause can boost the collective mood.
In the last decade, I have conducted dozens of performance climate assessments in many different areas of the world, on and offshore. Climate is a combination of the environment and the atmosphere. It is the team mood. I learned through immersion to gauge the mood at any installation within about 15 minutes. There were three elements that told me about the prevailing mood, and they never let me down.
1. Was I greeted by most who saw me, or was I ignored?
2. Was the site leader expecting me or was my visit a surprise?
3. Was there an organised, clean work-site environment, with observable energy in the body language of those I could see?
Learning: Courtesy, communication, and collaboration are noticeable and predictable indicators of mood and mastery.
In the year 2000 I was a commando captain helping to restore peace in the West African country of Sierra Leone. A rebel army was advancing on Freetown, murdering and maiming hundreds of innocent civilians along the way.
My role was to fly onshore from the commando carrier, HMS Ocean, liaise with the spearhead battalion on the ground, and then lead my Mortar Troop of 60 marines as we adjusted a number of targets to ensure indirect fire protection when the rebels attacked.
During that 6-week campaign in West Africa there were many threats and risks outside of our control. But what we could rely on was our training and our trust
trust in each other, trust in the system, and trust in the motivation of the marines on the ground. In other words, we focused on what we could control to lead a successful defence of the capital.
When I reflect on that situation, I realise how critical it was to sustain the right climate for the troops to deliver excellence in a dangerous place
to manage the mood, or moodset, for motivation and morale.
Trust is critical for moodset and despite our geographic spread during that campaign, the troop was positive throughout. Maintenance of morale is a principle of war. Managing mood is a priority during crises.
Learning: Trust provides peace of mind which helps a good moodset.
I’ll never forget the 1995 Rugby World Cup. I was born and brought up in Southern Africa in the 1980s so I was aware of the racial divide and I was aware of the rugby divide. The mood in South Africa at that time was one of anxiety and insecurity.
When Nelson Mandela was voted into power in 1994, he confronted the racial divide in an unexpected way. He forgave and he reconciled. He had also played a hand in ensuring the RWC would be hosted in South Africa in 1995.
Now the Springboks were not really given a realistic chance of winning the tournament, in fact they were seeded ninth out of 16 teams going in – part of the bottom half. They scrapped their way to the final, but no one gave them a chance against the mighty All Blacks who had Jonah Lomu in their team.
The game itself was incredible but what Mandela did was to make the improbable possible. He created the conditions for a chance in a million, in fact a chance for 43 million. You see, Mandela understood the magic of mood. He understood the ingredients of inspiration, perhaps even invincibility. He had been working behind the scenes to encourage the Springboks during the build-up, but it was on the day of the final that he saturated the squad with serotonin – the natural chemical for positive mood.
Mandela was by then an icon, a global leader. Can you imagine how it must have felt for the squad when he appeared in the Springbok changing room to encourage the team, AND he was wearing a Springbok jersey, AND it had the same number as the inspirational team captain.
Apparently, the team was so pumped up they were ready to run through walls for him. Before the national anthems, Mandela appeared on the field and the stadium erupted. The entire crowd started chanting “Nelson, Nelson, Nelson”. The All-Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick is quoted as admitting that it felt like his team was up against an entire nation not just a team. He said
“The power that Nelson Mandela brought into that stadium on June 25th was incredible, I'd never experienced anything like it. He saw that event as an opportunity to unite a country."
The Springboks were in the mood for a miracle, the All Blacks went from masterful to mortal. Mandela-mania and that miraculous milestone in the history of South Africa is actually a lesson in the true magic of mood. Setting the mood, or moodset.
Learning: High-performance climates have inspiring servant-leadership at the heart of them. The leader maintains a balance between the "balcony" and the "dancefloor" to win the hearts of the team.
Do you remember what it was like at school when you had a teacher or a coach who inspired a positive learning climate? He or she created the conditions for growth and grit. We had a rugby and running coach at my school who dared us to believe that we could defeat our own doubts to rise up and face even the toughest tests of our character. He nurtured a climate of confidence. A moodset for excellence.
In fact, the only time he discouraged our "daring", and changed his mood, was when anyone showed an active interest in his daughters who were out of bounds as far as he was concerned!
Great parents, teachers and coaches know how to maintain a mood which inspires effort, it inspires energy, it lights a fire inside. The right mood can fuel the fire while the wrong mood can extinguish the flame.
In my final year at school I was the anchor for our house cross-country relay team. I was also ranked as one of the best runners at the school. When I received the baton, I felt the overwhelming weight of responsibility to take the lead and finish strong, instead I mis-timed my charge to the front of the field and ultimately failed in my mission, I crawled across the finish line, then collapsed unconscious. I had let the pressure turn to panic rather than staying calm and clear.
I woke up with a drip in each arm and the suggestion that I should not participate in the individual event the following week. My dream of winning the senior cross-country title looked set to remain just a dream. Thanks to the Sanitorium support, I rehydrated sufficiently for a return to sports in a few days but was initially despondent about my chances in the individual event given my recent collapse.
I felt progressively stronger and more confident as it neared time for the individual run. My mood improved dramatically. On the day of the race I stayed calm and felt grateful for the chance to compete. I got the strategy spot on and found myself in front with 1 mile to go. It was then a case of hanging on to the lead, crossing the finish line, and enjoying the fulfilment of a dream.
When I look back at that small achievement from my school years, I realise it is a big reference point for how to overcome adversity, find the upside in a downturn, and simply help oneself believe that success can follow disappointment. Inspiration and flow were in balance and my mood was calm and composed. Job done.
Mood is the atmosphere, the background music, the feeling we have about our habitat. It is inspired by the leader which could be our self! Belonging cues and observable behaviours are foundational to team excellence.
Mood can transform performance, we have felt and seen that many times. The leader’s mood affects everyone’s mood. A bad mood leads to lower energy. Lower energy leads to average results.
Playlists help mood if selected by the team. In fact, play has been found to be the top direct contributor to total motivation. Giving the team a space and a voice is key.
A rotten apple needs to be removed from the barrel so as not to spread. Rarely but occasionally that rotten apple will be the appointed leader, in which case the mood can be infected until the rot is removed.
A courteous, communicative, collaborative community starts a good mood. Truth, trust, and transparency sets and sustains that mood over time.
Setting the mood for a miracle takes something extra special, something uncommon. Mandela moodset is a reminder of what is required for magic to happen.
But ultimately our mood and our effect on others is owned by all of us, all of the time. The way we show up, our language including our body language, who we spend time with, and where we spend our time
all of these factors impact mood!
One of the benefits of being a performance guide is that a bad mood in the work environment is simply not an option due to the role. We don’t have the luxury of being grumpy at work! As a result you get really good at managing your moods in order to be available for those who need help!
So, I’ll ask again: Can you set a more consistently positive mood? And can you impact the mood of others? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact it is simple, not always easy, but certainly worth it!


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