Adding (or Subtracting) Energy

Do you add energy to the organization, or do you absorb energy from it?  Or maybe you don’t do either one.

I started my blog a long time ago with the intention of focusing primarily on leadership, but most of my posts have been on other topics.  With this article I’ll try to get back to leadership for once.

In response to my initial question, I suspect that most people would say that of course they add energy.  But what they probably mean is that they add value to their organization because they produce something.  Hopefully everyone who works here actually does add value of some type, but that’s not what I am talking about.

Have you ever been in the company of someone who makes you feel so good that you feel your own level of energy and enthusiasm growing whenever you are in their company?  What was that person like?  Very likely they were confident, enthusiastic and positive. They are brimming with ideas, and see opportunities everywhere.  They were emitting energy, like rays from the sun that warm up and excite everything they encounter.  That’s what I am talking about.

On the other hand, do you know people who are pessimistic, who always need to be told what to do, who are always quick to see all the bad aspects of any situation?  They need to be pushed constantly, otherwise they will slow down and stop.  Spend a little time with people of this type and you are very likely to feel “down” yourself.  These people are absorbing energy from an organization.  They are actually taking away capacity and are eroding its ability to perform and move forward.

A complete taxonomy would include a third category, that being people who are neutral: they do not have any obvious or inherent tendency to either add or subtract energy.  Usually they just do what they are told.

Now let’s examine these.

Here’s a very simplistic view: We’ve all heard the expression “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”  Let’s hope that those who add energy are the leaders, that those who are neutral are the followers, and those who subtract energy will not be allowed to impede anyone else’s progress.

It’s absolutely essential for everyone in a leadership position to be a net source of energy, and not one of the other types.  To be a good leader, you need to add energy to your organization.  If you are in the neutral (follower) category, you are adding no value.  And let’s not even think about the possibility of someone in a leadership position being an energy absorber, but I’ve seen it happen.

Think for a minute about how others see you in this regard.  Would they say that they find you to be a source of motivation, ideas and encouragement, or would they have to think about it?

We’ll be optimistic and assume that you pass the test and people find you to be a source of energy.  But there is one more qualification:  That energy needs to be of the right type and directed in useful directions.  If you emit lots of energy but it causes others to chase their tails or jump through hoops, you are just confusing motion with progress.  Just stirring things up is not necessarily useful or even good, especially if it detracts from accomplishing the mission.  So your energy needs to be aimed in a useful direction.  Being a personification of Brownian motion might make you seem energetic and you might be applauded for it, but if you are not directing that energy towards a goal it’s a waste.

Oh, one more thing:  Being a source of energy does not necessarily imply that you must act like a human tornado or that you work 80 hour weeks.  One of the frequently-forgotten aspects of leadership is that whatever you do (good or bad) is amplified by the organization you are leading.  If you love your job so much that you work furiously at it for long hours, that’s great.  But the leader who adds energy to his organization will see that energy amplified and multiplied by many others, and that leverage is where the payback comes.

If you are a good leader, you need to add energy to your organization.  Be radiant, like the sun, adding energy to others wherever you go.

About John

John Peterson has been creating and managing the creation of software for his entire professional life. During that time, he's been through many projects large and small, worked with a wide variety of people on a wide variety of technologies, made a lot of mistakes, and learned a lot in the process. The intention of this blog is to pass along the wisdom he has accumulated in the creation of software to those who may be earlier in their path of experience.
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