In the face of disruptive developments in their industries and the world at large, CEOs need to act with speed and agility to pivot an organization’s focus. Continual change can be brutal for their people, so leaders need to focus more than ever on invigorating their organizations to overcome “change fatigue”.
Business leaders who exude positive energy demonstrate authenticity, a clear purpose, discipline and passion about possibility and opportunity. Their energy crosses internal company boundaries and goes viral; it can create social movements, infusing customers, opinion leaders and other stakeholders with excitement. These are leaders that we want to follow.
By contrast, “energy vampires” suck the energy out of a room and leave colleagues feeling dispirited, confused and tired.
For CEOs, having more people who can create energy within the senior team is not just good for morale, it’s good for the company’s top line. Indeed, as part of an ongoing research project that has so far examined the practices of more than 20,000 global leaders and 3,000 teams, we have found that leaders who can sustain energy and optimism are much more evident in “accelerating” companies than in “derailing companies”. Accelerating companies build momentum more quickly — and pivot more adroitly — than their rivals. They outperform derailing companies in terms of revenues, productivity, and other measures of economic impact.
How can CEOs increase the odds of their functional teams being led by purpose-driven, high-energy leaders and not by energy vampires? They can start by recognizing and ridding the organization of seven energy-draining personality types that are more likely to be found in companies or teams that are derailing. Most importantly, they should avoid becoming energy vampires themselves.
- The Over-promiser/Under-deliverer: People with an inflated self-image can make boastful promises, which is completely fine if they deliver. But when their egos consistently write cheques their capabilities can’t cash, that’s a problem.
- The “Customer Schmustomer”: Customers are hard to gain and easy to lose. The one thing an organization doesn’t need is a leader who doesn’t understand that business is all about winning and keeping customers.
- The Troublemaker: These are not nonconformists who push boundaries, question assumptions, and help the organization think outside the box. Such devil’s advocates are valuable and should be encouraged, but some individuals simply like to create chaos around them. Those who consistently push boundaries in destructive ways need to change or leave.
- The Incapable: We pay people to do a job. The leader’s job is to be clear about what that entails and to give people the tools and training to get the job done. If they either can’t or won’t do that after a few chances, then they’ve probably been given one chance too many.
- The Flake: Some people look the part but, when push comes to shove, can’t be counted on to get the job done or even show up on a regular basis. You simply can’t trust them and life is too short to have employees you can’t trust.
- The Entitled: Some people are more thin-skinned and entitled than they have any right to be. Half their mind is on the job and the other half is waiting for someone to slip up so they can whine and complain or even threaten litigation. Don’t give in to that kind of behavior - cut them loose.
- The Insubordinate Subordinate: Whatever your rules of conduct are, you must uphold them fairly and consistently. Whether an employee is insubordinate to their boss or a top executive lies about something material on their resume, if it breaks the rules, you should show the person the door.
Creating energy in a company involves much more than ridding it of troublemakers. Leaders who create sustained energy do so intentionally by preparing for every moment, meeting and important conversation. CEOs should start by examining the example they set and focus on these three key recommendations identified in our research:
Set three to five strategic priorities that will move the company forward
Get these right and you create the natural energy to execute them; get them wrong and you get confusion. So how do you determine the right priorities? Get inspiration from visits with customers and your marketing department, which should champion the voice of the customer. Mix external input with the views of internal people who really understand what’s going on. Identify strategic priorities based on data and then create a vision of what they will look like when achieved. Link those priorities to the purpose of your organization and to what your people care about. Communicate these priorities again and again.
Finally, when it is time to retire a strategy, move on quickly. Our research shows that as much as 40% of value destruction occurs not as a result of entering doomed opportunities, but by staying in businesses, geographies or products long after competitive advantage has waned.
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Use stress not as a source of anxiety and retrenchment, but as an opportunity to galvanize the organisation and generate energy to keep going. We need to establish coping rituals that will allow people to accept setbacks without the loss of momentum that a bad moment can bring. But we also have to learn from setbacks — and quickly — avoiding the corporate amnesia that afflicts so many. We found that teams in accelerating companies are almost twice as likely as others to be willing to fail fast and learn at speed.
Use purpose as your fuel
We all want to be connected to something meaningful. Creating a strong sense of purpose, tied to contributing to a greater good, gets people off the fence and encourages them to act urgently. This means going well beyond traditional mission statements and slogans. People at truly accelerating companies can tell you in just a few words what they do and why they do it, and get you excited about the company’s true North.
As we move forward in an increasingly unpredictable world, instilling energy, resilience and purpose into our companies, teams and even ourselves as leaders, will be of utmost importance. Setbacks and challenges are to be expected, but leaders who instill energy in their people, while reacting quickly and effectively to disruption, will guide their organizations ahead of their competition.