How to Face Challenges with Intentional Leadership
The tragic events that played out over the past few weeks in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, are weighing heavily on my heart. We are living and leading in challenging times. I am a huge proponent of positivity, but I’m also a realist. Our employees and teams are coping with everything from workplace violence to inclusion and diversity tensions.
And many are looking to leaders for comfort, safety and stability. I am reminded of a quote from a CEO who participated in a study I was involved in several years ago: “I have learned … that the energy I brought to any situation was reflected and absorbed by the team. I have become more conscious of the power of my energy and more respectful of its effect on other people than I was before.”
How wise. As business leaders, we have an obligation to be mindful of the energy we bring to the table, and to keep that energy running high. We can consciously set the tone and be mindful of the impact we have on others.
And, in times of great challenge, it’s easy as leaders to become so caught up in events that we work ourselves beyond a healthy point to help our employees. I have many colleagues who admit to 70- to 80-hour work weeks, especially in times of crisis. But, we have to ask ourselves: How helpful and effective can we be at that continued pace? I’ve learned that when I dip too many times into the well, I’m actually depleting the lifeblood of leadership—my energy and positive example.
But, maintaining calming positive energy for our teams and practicing positive self-care is easier said than done. It can feel uncomfortable, at times, to keep your weekend as “sacred” time for you, friends and family. I realize many of us will have work commitments that intrude into that time occasionally. But, the more we can step away—to keep or regain perspective, to adjust our own attitude, to refill our tanks and find inspiration—the better we lead. Especially in times like the one we’re living now.
The study I referred to found that energy is contagious and that a leader’s energy has an amplified effect on the organization. Finding the right balance between intensity and calm can mean the difference between engaged, healthy employees and scattered efforts. Hershey CEO Michelle Buck calls herself a chief energy officer, saying: “I’m intentional about lifting up those who are pushing the bounds and creating the future now.” Imagine if all C-suite officers thought of themselves this way.
In another study, conducted almost a decade ago, employees were asked to name the top attributes of their best boss. Here’s the list:
Note how many of these adjectives have to do with personal energy and attitude versus intellect.
In a review of several-hundred leadership studies, can you guess what one quality among leaders had a consistent positive impact on their employees? It’s the capacity to recognize potential in individuals that they don’t yet see in themselves. To do that well, our own personal energy tanks must be filled.
We are visible. Our teams look to us regularly, but particularly in challenging times, to be a compass and a gauge. What do your teams see when they look at you? Someone who is inspired, and thus, inspiring? Energetic, and thus, energizing? Compassionate? Discerning? Someone who raises the energy level of a room just by walking into it?
We’ve all heard the studies, but allow me to mention just a few more numbers to complete the picture. There’s the Stanford study showing that, after 55 hours of work in a week, productivity declines sharply. Working 70 hours versus 55 actually produces diminishing returns. This wisdom, from the CEO of a small company, says it well: “As the CEO, your job is to stay sharp, well rested, emotionally stable and self-aware. The moment you stop being any of those things, you suffer, your team suffers, your work suffers and your company suffers.”