Too Hot, Too Cold: The Right Energy Is Needed For Leadership

Likely you’ve experienced it with others.  Call it what you will, an ‘energy,’ a presence, an ‘edge’ or even a dynamic, it is an effective attribute of leadership…if controlled.  Most folks tend to be more attentive, responsive and engaged when working with someone having such characteristics, but they also can be turned off by those exhibiting them to either extreme.

Three examples from my experiences:

Too cold: A second generation business was exploding driven by its technology. At the helm sat an extraordinarily bright man, highly educated but perceived by his team as uninspiring.  He and I talked about this in depth; he was self-aware. One of the criticisms he received most often was that hundreds of employees had never seen him, let alone talked with him. We role played, he got professional coaching, he clearly understood the challenge.  Eventually we walked the floor together with the goal of mixing with the employees, talking about what they did and understanding their needs.  It was awkward; he knew in theory how to interact but he just couldn’t do it; he either didn’t want to try or was simply too afraid.  It wasn’t the best decision but in concert with his executive team we took a pass on going further, deciding it was best he stayed in the corner office and rely on them to energize the culture.

Too hot: I was retained to ‘de-burr’ a senior VP of operations and mentor him towards a more mature style of leadership. It was well known that he rattled his team of innovative engineering supervisors and production managers, so often and so hard that at best, they were withdrawn, no longer doing their best work and at worst, were quietly looking for more satisfying employment opportunities.

He knew why I was there and after a few initial individual meetings with him I attended one of his job review meetings. It was horrible!  He raged, he calmed, he paced and he demeaned and all in attendance sat silently waiting for the meeting to end.  They came to listen painfully; his negative energy and sharp edged delivery met their expectations.

When it was just the two of us he asked ‘what did you think?’ I answered, ‘Do you know how you come across?’  He answered ‘no’ so I showed him. Dragging one leg a bit sideways, as he did, I paced back and forth, yelled at him, calmed down, got in his face and abruptly ended…just as he did. He laughed (nervously), ‘am I really like that?’ ‘Far worse’ was my response.

And then we talked for a long time. He told me he acquired his negative presence while working as an apprentice in European machine shops. It was the only way he knew to lead. He knew he was respected for his technical knowledge but was very insecure about his ability to manage a large factory any other way. It took a while but we worked through it, me continuing to poke back at him and coaching others to do the same. He learned that displaying positive energy was far more effective than negative and hardly a sign of weakness. Morale improved as did productivity and he took pride in his new leadership persona!

Just right: And then there was my Fortune 500 experience.  The division GM was middle aged and had years of experience in a number of famed companies.  You could feel his energy when he walked into your office, even before he spoke. It wasn’t his speaking skills; it was his presence. Whether the subject was positive or negative…it was always exciting.  No one felt diminished when interacting with him.  He stood when he was with you, he paced, but not to intimidate, he was animated, he had a rhythm and most of us liked the ‘beat.’  Paraphrased from a long-term employee, ‘After so many years if I am part of his agenda he’ll likely cover information I’ve known for some time and I’ll just be bored.  Never fails; instead, I always walk away juiced.’

Having a discernible energy or presence won’t help anyone make better decisions; it can however significantly contribute to the investment their team makes in them as a leader.  Displaying such energy relies on self-awareness and being comfortable in one’s own skin.  The goal though is not to be like others; it is simply to be the best that one can be!

Lesson learned.

Read more: The Higher Purpose Of Being A CEO

Fred Engelfried: Fred Engelfried is Director/Chair of North Coast Holdings, Inc. and its subsidiary Lewis Tree Service, Inc. He has been a member of the board of directors of Lewis for over 20 years, and for 10 years prior to that worked with the company intermittently in various consulting capacities. He also is President of Market Sense Inc., a participative management firm that has served more than 100 regional clients over 35 years.