Female leadership expert, Susan MacKenty Brady reveals how energy is the source of your impact and how it can affect those around you.
At a leadership conference a few years ago, I was in the company of a former academic leadership magazine editor (who also co-founded a major business magazine) and who I believe has met and interviewed more living executive leaders (and has likely read more about leadership) than most people living today. What I wanted to know from him was this: what have you learned about leaders and leadership after all these years? His answer: “Susan, what I have come to believe is that the elusive nature of leadership is all about Energy.”
Since that defining moment conversation, I have thought a lot about energy. I have thought about my own energy, the energy of others, how energy impacts another or a team or a vision or dream. The very funny and inspiring Molly Fletcher, sports agent and now speaker extraordinaire, just wrote an awesome book on energy – The Energy Clock. It is a practical, fun quick-helping guide on the power of choice making. Molly writes about the USE of personal energy as a resource and how we can harness our energy (time) to manifest meaning in life – something we know is essential. I have long believed that my energy is my most precious asset. As I have come to value myself over the years, I have come to value where and with whom I spend my time. Being intentional about where we spend energy and on what is essential should we wish to ultimately have a life we love.
Different than Molly’s valuable message, what I believe my editor friend meant when he referred to energy as the “elusive nature of leadership” was energy as impact on others. Think about it: have you been in the presence of a leader who leaves you feeling inspired, energized, excited or hopeful? Have you been in the presence of a leader who has left you feeling dismissed, unimportant, anxious or fatigued? A leader’s energy can be dismissive, judgmental, appreciative, or valuing. It can be BIG and overt, overwhelming, attention-seeking. Energy can be small, subtle. Energy can be depleting or calming. When energy shines out of us, it can drastically change how we impact a person or a room of people. Here is why all leaders need to think about energy as impact: if we aren’t being intentionally aware of the impact our energy has on others, we may be impacting others in ways we don’t intend.
I consider one of my super powers to be my expressive enthusiasm. In other words, I have been accused more than once of having a LOT of energy. I have been called a “bright bulb” and “an energizer.” This is great, right? I want people to leave any conversation – even a difficult one – enthused, feeling cared for and hopeful. It was the fall of 2016. As a US-based executive with the firm I was working with at the time, I felt personally responsible for welcoming senior employees who flew in from our Singapore-based offices to the US for a global meeting. My initial meeting with one Singapore-based employee – a seasoned executive coach and consultant – led to my big “ah-hah” moment about my own energy. I am just shy of 6 feet tall. And I am exuberant. It never occurred to me that greeting this business associate for the first time with anything less than an engulfing hug was what was in order. She stood (maybe) at 5 feet tall and I had heels on. Needless to say, and looking back on that moment, I’m pretty sure it was an overwhelming moment for her. I was an overwhelming moment for her.
When I saw this same associate a day later and sat down to chat with her, she raised the moment of our greeting. She was gentle in her feedback, and simply said “you have big energy, and it might be too much for some. You need to moderate for your audience” GULP. The good news? I didn’t go to a place of shame with inner thoughts of “oh my goodness I’m so clueless about my impact, and I should be more aware. Where is your cultural sensitivity, Susan!” or to a place of self-righteousness, “Really? She has the audacity to be critical of my good nature and positive intention?” Years of practicing compassion and holding myself and others in warm regard had me steady in this moment of unanticipated feedback. (I write about this in Mastering Your Inner Critic and 7 Other High Hurdles to Advancement) Instead, I sat back and thought “oh my.” I realized that one of the very things that made me special, my energy – one of my established super powers – might also be my kryptonite. I needed to be aware of and be careful with my energy.
I have come to believe that my leadership legacy and my impact on others will likely best be remembered by my energy. Am I listening to understand or interrupting with exciting ideas? Am I present in the moment with whoever is speaking or am I distracted with something else? Over the years of consulting and coaching with leaders in many organizational settings, what I have heard most about is the impact (positive or negative) leaders have had on others. It is also my opinion that most leaders don’t derail or fail or get quit on by their followers because of intellectual incompetence, but instead because of a lack of interpersonally savviness. In other words, something about their energy lands as off to those around them. When I think of leaders who ultimately lose followers – those who are left by key talent – it is most often due to the energy of the leader. “She was anxious and dismissive.” “He was controlling and all about him.” “She didn’t listen or care about what I had to say. I didn’t feel valued by her.”
Since the conversation with my Singapore-based colleague, I now picture my well-intended exuberance (my energy) about 3 feet in front of me at any given moment. Before I begin a discussion, meet someone new, present to a group large or small, I have a practice. My practice is to envision reaching out and pulling this exuberant, enthusiastic, intense energy of mine back into my body. This way, I don’t “happen” to others as much. I can be intentional about my energy and its impact. This awareness, for me, has been (no pun intended) HUGE. Please know I am perfectly imperfect at this practice, as in most all of my self-management practices. Just ask my husband or my daughters. I can be the eye of my storm and as such run the risk of overwhelming – or turning off altogether – those around me. Like all humans, I’m a work in progress.
All of this awareness about my own energy has me pretty darn clear about this: The source of your impact IS your energy. We all need to pay close attention not only to where and how much time we give and to whom, but how we give of ourselves. Moderating energy to fit the task at hand and being aware of – and selective about – how much you give of yourself may just be your secret weapon. It is for me – but only when I take a moment to reach out and grab it and pull it in to my center. This energy awareness, after all, is the elusive nature of leadership.
How do you narrow the gap between your intention and your impact? What impact is your energy having on others around you?