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Leading with Energy: You Don’t Need a Title, You Just Need a Spark

by Todd R. Nordstrom

They’re often referred to as ‘the life of the party.’ You know exactly the people I’m talking about—those unique individuals who can enter any room or gathering and instantly transform the energy. Dull gatherings become exciting. Typically quiet people become chatty. And, even the ‘Debbie-downers’ in the room start to change their tune. All of these changes happen because one person enters the crowd. 

In social gatherings, we’re fully aware of the people who become the so-called spark of the party. But, for some reason, the workplace is different.

I was recently touring a large company (just shy of ten thousand employees) as I interviewed leaders for a book. Of course, my interviewees were C-Suite executives, which according to their titles, were the most important people in the company. They were supposed to be the people everyone admired and followed. But, in this company, that wasn’t the case.

My tour guide, I’ll call her Anna to protect her anonymity and the reputation of the company, was high energy to say the least. She told me that her official job title was ‘Junior Executive Assistant’ and said, “I do a lot of administrative stuff. I pretty much bounce between departments as needed.” She giggled as she spoke. It was clear that she enjoyed her job. And, then she said, “And, somehow I also ended up as the company tour guide.”

As I walked through the company with Anna, it became obviously clear that Anna knew a wide range of random, but interesting, tidbits of information about each department. And, it also became clear that absolutely everyone in the company knew Anna. She seemingly had inside jokes with most of the people we encountered. In fact, she even had a secret hand shake with an older, gruff-looking, gentleman who worked in facility maintenance. 

Of course, witnessing Anna’s high-energy and positive perspective on the company, I started getting excited to meet the C-Suite leaders. I thought, if Anna is a representation of the people who work here, then the leadership team is going to be amazing. And, that’s where I was wrong.

The C-Suite team was boring. They were stiff and cold. They honestly seemed annoyed that I wanted to write about them. And, instead of being full of energy like Anna, these executives sucked all the positive energy from the room.

During my third interview, I wondered, “Where does energy come from?” Many of us like to assume that great leaders inspire energetic cultures. We assume that great leaders motivate positive performance. And, we assume that great leaders enthuse others to become their best.

And, guess what? We are right about those assumptions. But, we might be wrong about who  the real ‘leaders’ are in an organization. You don’t need a title to be a leader. You don’t need permission to be a leader. You don’t even need to be responsible for budgets, or departments, or even teams. In fact, the only thing you need to understand to be a great leader is that it’s your job to help others become their best, most energized, versions of themselves.   

How do you energize the people around you? Here are three ways I’ve witnessed that will increase the energy levels of the people around you.

  1. Recognition inspires results.

Global research from the O.C. Tanner Institute reveals that recognition is the most important thing leaders can do to inspire great results. Survey participants rated recognition as more important than pay increases, promotions, training, and autonomy. Here’s the coolest part. You don’t need a big title to recognize someone for their great work.

  1. Kindness encourages performance.

This is cool. Researchers at the University of Oxford recently analyzed hundreds of published papers that studied the relationship between kindness and happiness. They found 21 studies that explicitly prove that being kind to others makes us happier. And a study from the University of Warwick revealed that happy people at work are far  more productive than unhappy people. These are great things to know. But can kindness at work also elevate your leadership?

  1. Trust accelerates connection.

If you want to be a spark of energy, people need to trust you. In fact, a 10-year study by Harvard Business Review reveals that the number one thing holding back second-rate executives is their inability to create trusting relationships. This seems obvious. Yet, after I interviewed a handful of employees during my tour, it became obvious that they didn’t trust the C-Suite at all, but did trust Anna—and would do anything for her. In fact, one woman I interviewed told me, “The only reason I agreed to this interview was because Anna (a junior Executive Assistant) asked me to talk to you.”

In the working world, a leader’s first responsibility is to care about the success of others.  Ironically, in all of life, caring about the success of others is what makes you a leader.

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