The Power of Your Energy
Several years ago, I was transitioning out of a job managing a mid-level team of about 100 people (company command for the Army readers out there) and into a new role in a different organization. I loved this team and had given everything I had to them over the 18 months I had the privilege to lead them. But there is one moment the occurred on my final day with that team that continues to give me inspiration and passion for what I do. One of my seasoned leaders in the team (a Platoon Sergeant) with 12 years of service came up to me to say goodbye and he stated, “thanks for everything you did. Most importantly, thanks for re-igniting a fire in me for the Army and for leading that I have been missing for the last few years.”
It’s a moment that still gets me emotional, even seven years later. It’s also a moment I use to point to the power of a leader’s energy.
Leader Energy: Intangible Things Creating Tangible Results
We all want to be on successful teams. We want to do well, enjoy and be proud of our work, and work with people we get along with and respect.
The challenge is, however, that few people who desire the benefits of being on successful teams are willing to put in the hard work, discipline, and dedication necessary to achieve it. Many like the idea of being on successful teams but are a lot less willing to do what it takes to create one. When I discuss this topic with mentees or junior leaders, I often jest with the saying, “everyone wants to be a gangster until it’s time to do gangster sh*t.”
Consider Newton’s first Law of Motion, because even that applies here: An object will not change its motion (or state of rest) unless an external force acts on it. Leaders are the external acting force to get objects (teams) in motion.
Leaders make successful teams. Leaders get people to commit themselves, their talents, and their effort, instead of simply complying. We need leaders to inspire action. Leaders build viable teams, able to succeed for the long term.
But what is it that gets people to commit? To buy in? To care? To have stake in the team with an owner’s mentality? To find their re-ignited fire for what they do?
I don’t believe that it’s really a leader’s technical competence or management skills that inspire a team to become more than the sum of its parts. Instead, I argue that a key ingredient to successful, viable teams is a leader’s energy.
What are We Talking About? What is Leader Energy?
Leadership is a people business, and we are emotional beings. Like Newton’s object, we must be compelled to action. Leaders transform people and teams - emotionally and cognitively.
Simply, leader energy is a unique process - a specific, effective way we lead and work - that positively influences the people we work with and the team or organization as a whole.
Our energy engages, challenges, and inspires. It becomes a force that creates action in others; that enables a team to become more than a sum of its parts. It’s a force that leads people to tap into their strengths, and become better versions of themselves; to care more, do more, and learn more.
Our energy can be our passion for who we are, what we do, and why we do it. Or it can be the intense ways we show how we care about and connect with others. There’s no right approach. But at its core, leader energy is about caring. People enjoy being around others that care. Caring begets caring.
Finally, leader energy is a gateway for the self-fulfilling prophecy. A leader’s energy can encourage people to be willing to ask themselves “what if?” or believe that “I can.”
What Energy is NOT
Our energy is not charisma. It is not extraversion. We don’t need either or both to be effective leaders and to harness the power of our energy. In fact, there are pitfalls to leader qualities like charisma and extraversion. Sure, both attract people’s attention, but “leaders” can be charismatic and extraverted, and still not care or can be selfish.
Energy is not about those qualities, but rather a reflection of our authenticity as leaders. It’s all the ways we show we care about our mission and calling, our team, and our people. Our energy becomes contagious. People are drawn to energy. So, be a beacon and use your energy for good.
So, before we dig deeper, don’t confuse energy for charisma or extraversion. They are not necessarily synonymous.
What Does Energy Look Like?
So, what does leader energy look, sound, and feel like? Again, there are no right answers here, but it’s certainly valuable to explore a few examples to equip us with ideas to adapt or integrate into our own behaviors.
Leader energy can look or sound like:
- When you come into contact with people, physically show them you are excited to see them and connect with them through your facial expressions. These don’t have to be eccentric, over-the-top efforts, but a simple smile and raised eyebrows can do a lot to relax someone when they approach you. Leaders are challenged with the responsibility to manage transitions, so even if we are having an off or challenging day, we ought to always be ready to show others we are excited for and interested in any opportunity to connect with them. This can be a pass-by in the hallway, as people come into the room for a meeting, or when people come to your office for a “do you have a second to talk?”
- When you enter a conversation with someone, check in with them first before you dive into work-related discussions. Get to know them and prove that you know and care about them on a deeper, human level beyond just a name and work position. Even simple questions like, “Nathalie, great to see you! How are you? How’s your day / week? What’s been big and important for you this week? Facing any big obstacles today that I can help with? How’s Will and the kids doing? Any big dates, trips, or activities coming up?” Check ins like this series of questions only take a minute or two before you dive into work topics, but can do a lot to help the other person feel at ease, seen, and valued at a personal and human level.
- Demonstrate and routinely communicate authentic optimism and personal passion for who we are as a team, what we do, and why we do it. Share your “why” for being on this team and caring so much. Encourage others to share theirs too. Being optimistic is not saying, “this isn’t so bad.” Instead, it says, “I and we can make this good.” We can acknowledge and validate peoples’ obstacles, challenges, and struggles. But we can also help them find opportunity in them too.
- Take time and be careful to listen to other peoples’ ideas. Engage those ideas to learn more about them and discover ways our team might bring them to life if valuable. Get excited about people sharing their ideas. Validate peoples’ contributions. This not only allows them to feel seen, heard, and valued, but also encourages buy in. People buy in when they are given the opportunity to weigh in.
- Empower people by giving them more responsibility and authority at their level. Let people below us make, own, and carry out decisions. Show excitement for the opportunity for them to carry out that responsibility, both for the positive effect is has on the team and the developmental opportunity it presents that junior leader. Leaders own risk, yes, so consider that. But we should always look for opportunities to give people below us space to lead, act, and decide at their level. We shouldn’t be the ones to always know, do, or decide it all.
- Lead through low power distance. In an organization, power distance refers to the strictness of social hierarchy. High power distance means leaders higher up the chain maintain a higher “distance” from junior leaders - physically, in social interactions, processes, traditions, and even work transactions. Lower power distance means an increased relational intimacy between unequal leader ranks. It means higher echelon leaders are relationally closer to and more comfortable with lower level leaders. Lead with a lower power distance. Don’t be standoffish. Be approachable. Talk and engage with junior leaders, even the most junior members on your team. Relate and connect down. Even consider going out of you way to talk with people when you come into a room, and not just those in your “inner leader circle.” Seek out those that seem on the fringes, the ones who might be normally ignored in that situation.
- Communicate clearly, confidently, and also honestly. Be transparent and share what you know about the “what” and “why” of your situation or environment. Help others understand and appreciate the bigger picture. But also enable others to determine the “how” for ideas moving forward.
- Be real, be vulnerable, be imperfect. Again, leadership is a people business. People want to connect with other humans who are authentic, even when that comes with imperfections, insecurities, and limitations. Own them and be willing to put them on the table for others to experience. Like caring, vulnerability begets vulnerability. And that improves relationships, connection, cohesion, and care. Helping others learn from your mistakes is also a great developmental tool.
- Celebrate people and give credit to others. Find the good and celebrate it. It’s easy for leaders to find the bad or what needs to be fixed. But continuous attention on that does not generate personal or collective team energy. Be intentional to find the good occurring in the team and publicly recognize it. Give credit when people do good work and achieve impactful things.
Think about what kind of energy you bring to your team. We all bring a specific angle, bias, or strength. How can you employ that to bring energy to the team? Is it centered around the team’s mission and tasks? Or in how you connect with people? Maybe more towards how you communicate perspective and shed light for others on what is going on around them in the organization and environment? Be authentic with your flavor of energy.
Second, think through how you bring that energy. What does it look like? How can you harness that and purposefully put it into action to create tangible impacts on your team?
And remember, while energy can look like charisma or extraversion that tends to be socially attractive, those qualities are not required for a leader to demonstrate energy. Moreover, they can become slippery slopes for leaders who rely on those qualities to be effective.
So, how are you bringing energy to your people and to your team today?