In Positively Energizing Leadership, Professor of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Kim Cameron, says it is about “how to capitalize on an inherent tendency in all living systems to orient themselves toward light or life-giving positive energy. It is known as the heliotropic effect. It is a “concept adapted from a phenomenon typically ascribed to how plants respond to the sun’s rays.” Cameron applies it here to the social and organizational sciences.
“The kind of positive energy that most accounts for flourishing in individuals and in organizations is called relational energy.” Relational energy is brought to you by virtuous actions like generosity, compassion, gratitude, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and kindness.
Mandating that employees behave positively, think happy thoughts, or be cheerful when they are depressed, anxious, or experiencing emotional pain produces false positivity. It is inauthentic, disingenuous, dishonest, and untrustworthy. It denies reality, which is the opposite of virtuous responses in trying times.
It is these virtuous responses that build the relational energy that moves an organization forward in good and bad times. It is real, and we naturally respond positively to them—the heliotropic effect. Importantly, these demonstrated behaviors “lead to the only kind of energy that does not deplete with use and does not require recovery time after it is expended. Whereas physical, emotional, and mental energy diminishes with use, relational energy elevates.
There are 15 attributes associated with positively energizing leaders:
1. Help other people flourish without expecting a payback. Positive energizing is not transactional. “A quid pro quo is not expected.” They contribute for the benefit of others without concern for who gets the credit.
2. Express gratitude and humility. Humility makes possible to put the spotlight on others and expressing gratitude for their contribution early and often. Humility also means graciously accepting feedback.
3. Instill confidence and self-efficacy in others. They know how to build confidence in others by acknowledging their strengths. They assist when others fall short. They also create opportunities for others to be acknowledged for their successes.
4. Frequently smile. A smile is often overlooked, but it goes a long way. In repose, we sometimes look angry or sad. A leader should always be mindful of the emotion they are communicating. Put on a smile.
5. Forgive weaknesses. Cary Nieuwhof once wrote, “Be the type of friend that fixes a friend’s crown without telling them it’s crooked.” Positively energizing leaders forgive and turn mistakes and failures into learning experiences.
6. Are personal and know outside-of-work interests. Understanding that the whole person comes to work, positively energizing leaders invest the time to get to know the whole person – family, interests, and goals. “A study at the University of Kansas found that it takes about 50 hours of socializing to progress from an acquaintance to a ‘casual’ friend, an additional 40 hours to become a ‘real’ friend, and a total of 200 hours to become a close friend.”
7. Share plum assignments and recognize others’ involvement. Rather than keeping the best assignments for themselves, “they find ways to involve others, to help them find ways to succeed, and to be acknowledged. They are willing to share the limelight without abrogating their own responsibility to lead.”
8. Listen actively and empathically. They consciously do not dominate the conversation and share their ideas. They listen and ask questions giving others the opportunity to share. They respond compassionately when necessary.
9. Solve problems rather than create problems. They anticipate the needs of others and potential problems and respond rather than always reacting. “They take responsibility for generating results.”
10. Mostly see opportunities. They possess a realistic optimism. They find a way forward through problems rather than getting bogged down in the moment. They are hopeful. “They approach challenges and difficulties with a ‘yes, and’ rather than a ‘yeah, but.’”
11. Tend to inspire and provide meaning. They have clarity. They know why we are doing what we are doing and inspire others to see their part and impact in the bigger picture. “They elevate others’ views.”
12. Are trusting and trustworthy. They are trusted to do what they say they will do and behave in alignment with their stated values. They also build trust by being trusting.
13. Are genuine and authentic. Their positivity is genuine and not an act. It is derived from who they are. When appropriate, they share their personal challenges and mistakes to encourage others to move forward.
14. Expect very high performance standards. Never satisfied with good enough, they help other to exceed the basic requirements and help them achieve beyond what they thought possible.
15. Mobilize positive energizers who can motivate others. They seek out other positively oriented people and mobilize them to uplift others and create a positive work environment. “They marshal positive energizers to foster improvement and goal accomplishment.