The conversation started as she walked in looking haggard and weary. “I’m so drained, today I can’t be the leader I want to be.” She continued, by saying “I feel like a bitch asking for help –but there is no way I can do all of this by myself.”
Unknowingly, with those two statements, she summed up the essence of leadership.
This was a woman thoroughly drained of resources, and unable (unwilling?) to ask for help. She would be the first to tell you that she had not replenished those resources in any way, and that her behavior bordered on insane. With every good intention to be effective, caring, and yes, even demanding, she had thoroughly burned herself out. And she was responsible for having done so, partially because she had the perception that it was a sign of weakness to ask for help, and partially because she thought it selfish to take care of herself. She missed the point on both counts.
Hers is a common story, and it crosses age, experience, gender and industry.
All too often leaders forget that their real job is asking for help and managing energetic resources.
Yes. I said “energetic resources.” No one questions the leadership role of “resource management.” It’s a given. For example, just watch Shark Tank. “Please give me $XX and I will manage it carefully to give you back $XXX.” The same thing happens in the myriad budget meetings from small businesses to large. Warren Buffett says his greatest strength is in capital allocation – ie resource management.
In this case, I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about energy. Leadership boils down to a similar request: “Please give me your best thinking, your hard work, your customer service, etc. and I will manage it carefully and give you back….” and here is where it can go in many directions. For some leaders, the exchange is cash and nothing more. And when it is a job, yes of course, you need to get paid. The best leaders understand it is much more than the money.
Whether it is instinctive or intentional, those leaders also understand their role as resource managers of energy.
You could also call it attitude, esprit de corps, or mood. We usually know the difference between someone who has the energy to get a job done and someone who doesn’t have it. We also know the difference between a team who has that energy or not, and when we get to the organization level, well, this is where leadership truly comes into play.
The quality of energy makes all the difference in the ability for an organization to get things done. Yet investing in energy is rarely talked about. Neither is asking for help. (We are going to save the “help” topic for another day.) It’s fairly typical for leaders to pile on more than can possibly be done, making everything equally important all at once. That leads to a counterfeit “yes” that looks like people are working hard, getting exhausted, and yet sometimes just spinning their wheels. Priorities? What priorities? “Just get it all done.” If working hard is all you care about, no worries.
If getting results is what you want, energy matters.
Some actions de-energize people. Some actions energize people. Setting clear priorities and asking for a committed “yes” instead of a counterfeit “yes” are two energizers.
Frequently when leading team sessions, I ask teams to list energizers and de-energizers. Just the question prompts an “ahha” moment, and the lists they generate reveal the hidden truths of work.
The invisible matters as much as the visible.
Start noticing what energizes you and what de-energizes you. Make your own list. If you are brave, notice what you personally do that energizes or de-energizes others, or better yet, ask those around you what you do that energizes or de-energizes them. You might be surprised by the answers.
Want a list of energizer and de-energizers that I have compiled through years of team meetings? Sign up for my newsletter below and I will send it to you.
Want to know more about setting priorities and asking for a committed yes? Stay tuned to future blog posts where we will dig into those topics.
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Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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