Leaders infuse energy

Leaders infuse energy

"Cautiously optimistic," is how Glenn, the CEO of a chemical distribution company, put it when we spoke in mid-March, referring to his forecast for the rest of the year. This first quarter will probably come in about 4% above expectations, so with that in mind he and his team are - happily for a change - re-forecasting the year.

What Glenn wanted to talk about in our coaching session that day was reinvigorating the team. They have all been dragged through a tough 2010 with this nasty recession, a re-org, and the loss of one of the most inspirational members of the executive team who left the company after being diagnosed with throat cancer.

Glenn is a quiet leader, very self-contained, data focused. He tends to spend his time in his office reviewing numbers or on the road talking to customers. The business is extremely sensitive so he has to stay on top of the macro-economic environment and his customers' plans. He knows, though, that

To capitalize on any bounce-back, he needs to upgrade his ability to energize his team.

So true. Even during hard times, you want your people bounding forward, dealing with obstacles without dampening their enthusiasm. As a leader,

Your job is to infuse energy into the system every day.

Often this is a matter of your own awareness and some planning. Three ideas for you to be more systematic:

1) managing your own mood; 2) connecting in little pockets of time; 3) sharing yourself and your vision.

1)Manage your own mood.

We all have ups and downs, that's normal. But don't forget that, as the leader, you are under surveillance all the time. Your mood is visible and contagious. Employees look to your mood as a signal for what is going on. If you're in a bad mood for a week, they won't necessarily know that you're upset at your teenager about her grades, they'll think that something might be wrong. They'll just discuss it amongst themselves, and you won't be able to set the record straight.

Glenn could relate to this. Last year had been a tough one. Through 360-feedback, we had found out that Glenn could sometimes come across as glum, and that concerned the team.

He decided to simply be more conscious. He began to tune into his mood as he drove to work in the morning.

As he walked from his car to the office, he turned his focus away from his mood and towards the specific emotions he wanted to transmit to others. He did the same thing mid-day. These two small changes helped him get in control of his emotions and come across much more even-keeled.

2) Connect in little pockets of time.

Personal connection energizes your people. It's impossible to spend all your time connecting, but when you plan you can increase your leverage on this.

Glenn realized that he did very little spontaneous interaction with his team, and even less with the company as a whole. He asked his admin to schedule some lunches and drinks one to one with his executive team so he would have more informal time with them. He also asked his executive team to let him know the details about the achievements of their people so he could reach out to them to give them credit.

Then, he created a protocol for himself: he took 5 minutes daily to send out an encouraging or thank you email or two to specific employees. He took 10 minutes a day to call someone personally. And twice per week he took 20 minutes to walk the halls for the simple purpose of mingling with people.

When the leader mingles, energy goes up.

3) Share yourself and your vision.

It sounds corny, but it's a cliché for a reason:

people want to believe in you and in your vision. When you share it with them, that's energizing. When you don't you miss the chance to actively energize the work ecosystem.

Glenn had always assumed that "sharing his vision" meant more face time, and he felt that was impossible given his schedule. When we did 360-feedback, we found that his executive team

just wanted him to communicate more, not even so much to them but to the rest of the company. Everyone understood that he traveled a lot and was really busy. They suggested he send out monthly emails about what he was thinking about and what he learned in his discussions with customers. Glenn could easily do that - he enjoyed writing down his thoughts to help crystallize them, and that was a good "plane task" for him. He sent out his first "Reporting in From the Field" email last week and got an amazing reaction.

Whatever leadership role you have in your company - leader of the company, leader of a division, leader of a team or leader of yourself - remember that you can be a force to infuse positive energy into the system. Pick one idea to experiment with, or come up with some yourself. I would love to hear your suggestions!

Messages from your followers

As a coach, I've talked to thousands of people about what energizes them and what drains them about their leaders. Most people are curious about this. Here are some direct quotes, which reflect the most common energizers and drainers:

What energizes you about your leader?

  • She's there when I need her and not there when I don't need her, you can't ask for more than that.
  • He tells me what's really going on, and that's energizing.
  • She's clear. She has a vision, you can totally see it, and I feel like I see how I fit in.
  • I totally trust him.
  • He's so smart, so credible. Then you see the way he deals with people and I'm just envious of his skills.
  • He never sits down to have a big, formal career conversation with me. He just asks me now and then if this is working for me, if I think I'm getting where I want to go. He also tells me when others share good feedback about me, and he tells me what he says about me in talent review. He finds new opportunities for me. So it's nothing formal, but I see that he's got my career in mind.
  • She gives me clear feedback pretty often, and I'm never in doubt. But I always feel like she's trying to help me solve a problem, not just criticizing.
  • He's open to what I have to say and makes me feel respected. I never feel like some little minion in his kingdom.
  • He makes decisions and then tells me why. Even if I don't agree, I can live with it.
  • I'm proud of the way he is viewed by his peers and by our customers, and I'm proud that he's able to fight for resources for us. He's smart and he's effective and he's someone others respect.

Isn't it energizing just to read these? Do you recognize yourself in these comments? Are there ideas here for you to add? You might think about the ways the leaders you look up to energize you and others and get some ideas from that as well. Being an energizer is always a good strategy.

What drains you about your leader?

  • She is always out of pocket, it's impossible to get on her calendar.
  • He goes behind my back, he tells me one thing and one of my peers something else. Or he doesn't tell me something I need to know. I just don't trust him.
  • It's incredible the way he explodes at people or rants at us in meetings. You're just sitting there squirming - It's awful and it takes people days - maybe weeks - to recover. The lost productivity - it's amazing they let him walk around like this!
  • I don't ever get any feedback.
  • She doesn't give me any sense of where I'm going, and she is not open to having a career conversation.
  • He won't hold people accountable. We all use that to slide through, but even when we use it ourselves it's draining.
  • She should pull the team together so we can all get on the same page. But she doesn't, then she wonders why we all operate in silos.
  • She's not clear. I'm always working to guess at what she wants and asking others if they get it. We all kind of joke about it.
  • There is no vision. He's not sat down and told us where he sees us going, where he wants to take this division.
  • He just doesn't communicate. You never know what he's thinking.
  • He cares about 3 things: him, him, him.

One thing I know to be true: leaders don't wake up in the morning intending to be an energy drain on their people. And yet, some leaders get these comments. You might want to do a gut check to see if any of the above might be a blind spot for you. Being an energy drainer - even unintentionally - is never a good strategy.