This claim is one of a tiny number of things I am fairly certain about: most people underestimate their impact on others, you and me included. For a variety of reasons, most of us go around assuming that what we do on a day-to-day basis is not that noticed by others. It can be especially disconcerting to adapt to the increased visibility that comes with a higher level leadership title.
Being a leader does not take away your right to be yourself; to the contrary. Authenticity is critical to engaging employees. But have you thought about what responsibility you have for how your authentic self adds to or drains the energy from others as you go about your daily interactions?
The DRAIN. You might believe, “It’s their problem if people don’t like how I am,” or, “People need to look out for themselves; it’s not up to me to make their day,” and you would not be wrong. But you might not be entirely right either. We do need to stop taking others’ behaviors personally, but as leaders we own our part in creating a culture.
Some actions can send your team’s precious energy down the drain:
Rarely saying hello or smiling at work.
People will tell themselves that it doesn’t matter that you are like that, it’s just “you.” But they leak a little of their energy from every interaction with you, and who has excess energy to waste these days?
The deadpan response.
People may understand that you are introverted. They may tell themselves that you are excited on the inside (they hope). But their inner dialogue fights the feeling that you are annoyed with them, burned out, don’t like their ideas, don’t like them, etc., and many will be left feeling tired from the mental and emotional sorting.
The oblivious dichotomy.
This might be the leader with the shiny new sports car in the lot days after frontline staff layoffs, or talking about a major vacation when employees can’t take a day off during a pandemic. I’m NOT saying that leaders should not get a new car or go on vacation. What I am saying is that leaders need to be aware that these things will be noticed and thought about. Most employees will consider it and understand it is absolutely your right to drive any car you want to, and that you totally deserve a vacation. But when they are worried for their livelihood during uncertain times, realistic or not, just realize that some of their energy will be used up in processing this.
Allowing disengaged behaviors in others.
Those who sigh frequently, who don’t attend meetings (or who do attend but don’t participate), don’t clean up their messes, interrupt others, etc., and are not coached to make improvements will take the life right out of a team.
The ADD. There are some easy ways to energize those around you with your actions:
Write a personal note.
Want a motivational boost right now? Read letters the nurse residency grads wrote to the nurses who are struggling (View Letters). These powerful messages reach far beyond nurses to help the reader to keep showing up. Personal notes from you are a lasting fuel that can always be re-read on a difficult day.
Enter with intention.
Before you enter any space (the hallway, the lunchroom, a meeting) decide that you want to add, not drain, energy to that space with your demeanor, facial expression-even under a mask-and words. This decision helps you remember that you make more of an impact than you realize. Just like with patient interactions that impact the patient experience, “every patient, every time,” setting an intention with your team will keep your energy contributions in the plus column.
Admit to a rough day.
This is where authenticity comes in. People don’t expect you to be perfect, to not have struggles. Speaking up about it removes the need for people to lose their own energy trying to figure out what is going on with you and worrying it is about them. Your openness engages empathy and that motivates people.
Ask for feedback.
Let people know that you want to be an energy contributor, and ask, “What are some things you see me doing that make a positive impact on the energy of the work environment? What are some things I could do that would make it more positive?” If the word “energy” doesn’t sit right with you, replace it with morale, culture, mood, or motivation.
You DO make an impact. Make it the one that you want it to be.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
||In Jo Anne's current role as Organizational and Workforce Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) her aim is to offer to leaders straightforward tools and inspire the courage to use them.
Lead the Way in Five Minutes A Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team, by Jo Anne Preston is currently available for purchase.