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The importance of energy in your leadership

4 min read


This is how we tend to start the development journey with our business leaders: Take a psychometric assessment. Receive 360-degree feedback. Work with an executive coach. Hope for the best.

This approach tends to generate cognitive insights. In partnership with an awesome coach, it may invoke incremental behavior changes. It may also entirely miss the boat.

Research by Sandy Pentland and Daniel Olguin at MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab grabbed my attention. They outfitted five executives with devices that recorded data on their social signals — not what they said, but their tone of voice, gesticulation, proximity to others and personal energy. Pentland and Olguin call these unspoken signals “honest signals.”

The honest signals of these executives were tracked just days before each appeared before a panel of judges to present a business plan. Without any inkling at all of what the executives would actually propose, Pentland and Olguin forecast who would present the winning plan. Accurately, of course.

When asked which honest signals are most clearly identified with successful people, Pentland’s answer is emphatic: “The more successful people are more energetic.”

Yes! Leaders succeed for many different reasons, but at the core is our ability to connect with folks. And great connections rarely happen on the cognitive level alone. Great connections touch our hearts and souls. Great connections are visceral. They are energetic.

I am convinced that we don’t work with leadership energy because we don’t really know where to begin. Instead, we continue to perpetuate the Jungian notion of an introversion/extroversion duality. Introverts, Jung says, tend to derive energy from thoughts and ideas while extroverts tend to derive it from other people. It’s a convenient cognitive frame for understanding personal energy, but it does little to help us move toward a deeper experience of energy. It certainly does not help us to better access it.

I invite you to consider a non-Western take on personal energy.

Let us talk about the “big energy.” Cultures throughout history have found language to describe this energy. The most common phrase attributed to it is “life force.” The Hindus call it prana, the Japanese ki, the Chinese qi or chi. There are almost 100 other names associated with this energy in as many different cultures. More importantly, there are very specific techniques for accessing it. And these techniques can be readily learned by introverts and extroverts.

Here are four specific energy frameworks that take us out of our minds and into our bodies:

  1. The chakras. Our spinal cord acts as an energy highway that allows energy to move from the base to the top of the head and out. Seven major chakras serve as energy centers that line our spine. The moment we learn to open our chakras and charge them, we also charge our personal connections with absolutely anyone.
  2. The chi-catalysts. “Chi” is the Chinese term for “life force.” It travels through energy channels called meridians that crisscross our entire body. When these channels are open, our energy flows freely within us — and to others. Practices such as qi gong, reiki, acupuncture, tai chi, Alexander Technique, reflexology and yoga all help to unleash the flow of chi. They help us radiate energy.
  3. NLP. Neuro-linguistic programming is an unwieldy name for a rather intuitive approach to noticing the verbal and energetic cues of another person. By mirroring and matching the cues we receive, we get on the same wavelength with the other person and accelerate the connection. We end up “being in sync” with the energy of others.
  4. Symbolic imagery. For individuals who are stirred by symbols and mythic imagery, power animals may be a potent path for accessing hidden energies. Native American cultures incorporate the energy of animals into their worldview. When we learn to connect with power animals, we connect with primal human energies that hover right below our conscious minds.

So, do you believe that your leadership success will be enhanced by more resonant connections with others? I invite you to venture beyond our world of simple cognitive labels. Learn how to be out of your mind and study alternative energy practices. The personal rewards will be tremendous.

Achim Nowak is the author of “Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within.”