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Energy Givers & Suckers

A few years back I spoke to our team on the topic of being an energy giver vs. an energy sucker. This term is well known and there have been a few articles written about it. I wanted to share some of the learning from our experience on why this is such an important topic.

There is a bottom line to everything. In this case, the bottom line is that negativity always ruins what's good. People inside companies who feel the need to be right are usually the ones that aren't. Here's the thing; if you're the smartest person in the room or in the business but you're a jerk then the greatest contribution you're making to the company is undue stress and anxiety. Of course, some people know they are jerks and enjoy the role.

Others, however, simply suffer from the lack of self-awareness. They have very little EQ, and they don't actually see how their behavior is hurting others and the company they work for. Many people grow old but they don't grow up.

When I gave this talk, I highlighted seven areas that need to be thought about and practiced in order to air out the energy sucking people and the stench they leave. I also included clues for each, just in case it's not clear what's what.

Lead by example

Does this need an explanation? What I shared with our team at the time is that the values of a business are simply demonstrated in how we all behave day-to-day. We can create posters, etch things on a glass wall, create lots of content and keep talking about it, but leading by example is endeavoring to do what will serve the customer, company and it's people best.

This means being responsible with how you represent your company's brand, how you spend their money, how you talk to one another and about one another. It's the stuff we do when no one is looking. Dare I say it, it's about your character and mine. An attitude of gratitude breathes life into the business and makes working with others a much happier experience. In the immortal words of Bill Belichik - "Do your job"

Clue: Lots of gossip going on about the company and employees

Raise the bar

There is a huge difference between question and questioning. The way to raise the bar in an organization is to foster an environment of learning from one another by asking questions that communicate empathy and interest.

Some people are into questioning everything, doing this with a tone of condescension and arrogance and not in the spirit of helping. Of course, to question things is a good practice and it's what helps shape critical thinking mindsets, but you know the difference between the two.

Clue: Argumentative person, leaving conversations usually feels ugly

Be honest and open

It was Mark Twain that said if you tell the truth you won't have to remember what you said. That's the honest part, simply be truthful with the people you work with. This involves tact at times but it's the only way forward. Avoiding the truth because you think you know better or because you think the other person is an idiot won't help either of you.

Energy suckers typically aren't very open about their feelings but they're very open about their opinions. There is a balance to be found. Basically, the best companies have formed a safe environment, where honesty and openness are expected and rewarded with respect and dignity. Telling me I'm not the smartest person won't help me, but showing me how to improve has huge benefits for both of us.

Clue: It's everyone else's fault; lack of humility

No silos

One of my favorite energy suckers used to go off on their own. Everyone was excluded and they'd show up with work done, ideas thought through and then the puzzled look followed when they were asked why they didn't collaborate on this or that. Why? Because they have it all figured out and would spend more time correcting the mistakes you made.

Someone once said that if you want to know if you're a leader, turn around and see who is following you. There is some truth there but I'd argue that leaders are better defined by their willingness to be inclusive and search out people in order to learn and grow, and more importantly, get others to be part of the answer. Again, this isn't rocket science, but despite all the talk in our modern society about "new ways of working", for many it's still just talk.

Clue: How's that collaboration thing going? Lone Rangers in the camp.

One voice

I'm guessing that 99% of the people that like to say "we can agree to disagree" actually don't believe it. We all want to be heard and we believe our views are important, but they can't overshadow the purpose and vision of the company. We can argue internally on a topic but we need a unified voice to the world. That's not only logical, it's professional.

You might have as many examples as I do where your energy sucker shares negative views about the company with clients; casting shadows in order to shed more light on themselves. Sadly, this is a common occurrence. I see this most with associates and contractors and those that were in such a capacity before coming on as full timers. To be clear, I've also seen more loyalty from associates and contractors at times than I've seen from full timers, so I'm not singling out anyone here. The underlying message is one of being independently minded.

Isn't that a good thing you say? Yes, it's great to have people thinking for themselves but not helpful when they only think of themselves.

Clue: Your client know your problems. Lots of self promotion.

Bring solutions

The reason we call them energy givers is because they give back, and suckers simply suck or take. Simple. Those that give regularly contribute feedback, insights, help and support. You know who those people are. You are thinking about them right now as you read this. It's the same with those in the opposite camp. You know them as well and you know that you are usually fighting to get them on board to be more engaged, especially if they play a lead role in your company.

Bringing solutions isn't about coming up with the answer as much as it's being part of one. I had one experience where my energy sucker was producing great content for a client and solving major problems but wasn't sharing it with the company. It became a territorial issue rather than bringing us answers that would have helped.

Clue: That person is territorial and everyone knows it.

Obligation to care

Can we really expect people to be obligated to care about the business? I think we must be. People have choices, even energy suckers. They can choose to leave and work somewhere else or for themselves. No one is obligated to work at the company but if they choose to be there then they are obligated to be part of the fabric and represent it well.

While money is important, many people want to be encouraged. They're looking to know that they mean something to the company, that their work is recognized and that they are important to the overall success of the business. This isn't a revelation yet it's missing in many places from many organizations. If you think you're a good manager then confirm that by assessing the morale and engagement levels within your own business. You might consider an anonymous happiness index to gauge how people really feel. Either way, it starts with us. Those that don't care or can't be bothered don't belong there.

Clue: That good vibe is missing. Negativity when that person is around.

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