Positive Energizers

Are you an energizer? Why your energy matters in the workplace

We hear a lot of messages regarding how to recognize leadership. We hear that it’s about who has influence (Ansari, 1990), it’s about who communicates an inspiring vision (Bass, 1990), or it’s about who has the most information (Higgins & Kram, 2001).

All of this is true, but research by Baker, Cross, and Wooten (2003) demonstrates that there is one indicator of individual, group, and organizational performance that outshines all the others: energy.

Energy is a positive feeling of arousal that can be experienced as an emotion (a short response to a specific event) or as a mood (a longer lasting state that doesn’t need to be in response to an event; Quinn & Dutton, 2005). But energy in an organization is better understood by the people who inhabit it, otherwise known as ‘energizers’ or ‘de-energizers’(Baker, Cross, and Wooten, 2003). Just as most of us can immediately call to mind a de-energizer who pushes unrealistic agenda, insists on following only their own ideas, and stops ideas in their tracks, so too can we easily think of an energizer, or a person we know who inspires enthusiasm, stimulation, and excitement around new possibilities.

So why does this matter? Whether you’re a leader or an individual contributor, evidence suggests that energizers themselves are more productive, even when they have the same amount of information as others in the organization (Baker, Cross, & Wooten, 2003).  And the increased productivity doesn’t stop on an individual level. In fact, high performing organizations tend to have up to three times as many positive energizers as typical organizations (Baker, 2004).

Positive energizers impact their environment through the quality of their interactions with others. They are attentive listeners who devote themselves to understanding others’ ideas. This means that other high performers tend to flock to positive energizers to get their ideas heard and off the ground. It also means that the ideas of positive energizers are considered more deeply, since they help motivate action within the organization (Cross, Baker, & Parker, 2003).

Positive energizers don’t only increase productivity, but they also facilitate organizational learning to a much greater extent than do de-energizers (Hansen, 1999). Think about it – would you be more likely to share a new idea with someone who had a tendency to shut you down, or with someone who would be receptive and hear you out? Energizers support creativity and encourage their colleagues. After speaking with an energizer, you’d be likely to leave the interaction feeling uplifted, excited, and ready for action.

Fortunately, being a positive energizer is something you can develop. It is not associated with personality, which is relatively stable over time, but is malleable and can change with your will (Cross, Baker, & Parker, 2003). It doesn’t matter if you are extroverted or introverted, gregarious or quiet. The key is really the behavior that you exhibit in your interactions and relationships. Here are some empirically based suggestions to become a positive energizer within your organization (Cross & Parker, 2004):

Engage fully in your interactions:

Even if you have a million things on you mind or a to-do list longer than you’d like to admit, be conscientious and present in every interaction you have. This means actively listening, making eye contact, and exhibiting energized gestures. In other words, take an authentic interest in what people have to say. This communicates that you care about the ideas your colleagues present and opens the door for great ideas to emerge.       

Don’t take over the conversation:

People gain energy from being able to voice their ideas and opinions. Even if someone’s idea isn’t used in the end, being heard makes people feel like they are able to make a meaningful contribution. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t voice your own idea or be honest in your interactions, but only that you are open to changing your strategy as new ideas filter in.

Focus on possibilities:

It’s easy to only consider the constraints you might face, but allowing space to dream about new potential ideas instills energy and vigor that motivates people to push forward. Once potential solutions are on the table you can focus on what is actionable and realistic.

Be sure to follow through:

Even if you listen well, consider other’s ideas, and focus on possibilities, nothing kills energy faster than a lack of integrity. Following through on your commitments inspires hope. Once people know that you will not only listen to them, but you will also act on their suggestions, you will become a positive energizer within your organization.

With this evidence, hopefully you can contribute to an invigorated and enlivened organization by developing your own energy network.

References

Ansari, M. A. (1990). Managing people at work: Leadership styles and influence strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.

Bass, B.M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, 18(3), 19-31.

Baker, W. (2004). Half-baked brown bag presentation on positive energy network. Unpublished manuscript, University of Michigan Business School, Ann Arbor, MI.

Baker, W., Cross, R., & Wooten, M. (2003). Positive organizational network analysis and energizing relationships. In K. Cameron, J. Dutton, & R. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 328-342). San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

Cross, R., Baker, W., Parker, A. (2003). What creates energy in organizations? MIT Sloan Management Review 44(4), 51-56.

Cross, R. & Parker, A. (2004). Charged up: Creating energy in organizations. Journal of Organizational Excellence, 23(4), 3–14. doi: 10.1002/npr.20021

Hansen, M. T. (1999). The search-transfer problem: The role of weak ties in sharing knowledge across organization subunits. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(1), 82–111.

Higgins, M. C., & Kram, K. E. (2001). Reconceptualizing mentoring at work: A developmental network perspective. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 264-288.

Quinn, R. & J. Dutton. (2005).  Coordination as energy-in-conversation: A process theory of organizing. Academy of Management Review, 30(1), 38-57.