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BOOK REVIEW: Why CEO should stand for chief energy officer

Jun 07 2018 06:02
Ian Mann

The Positive Leader: How Energy and Happiness Fuel Top-Performing Teams, by Jan Mühlfeit and Melina Costi

Author Jan Mühlfeit has spent almost 22 years working for Microsoft, the last 15 of which were in top management including the position of chairperson of Microsoft Europe.

The book’s basic premise is that our obsession with the performance of companies has led to a fundamental error. We have mistaken the outcome for the driver. The outcome every organisation requires is optimal performance. But to achieve this outcome, the organisation must first focus on the drivers of performance.

It is always up to the leaders of organisations to achieve the results: if the leadership is poor or misdirected, so will be the results.

Mühlfeit suggests that bad leaders make four critical errors: they focus on the weaknesses, not the strengths of their people. They fail to inspire others with their vision or their purpose. They manage their staff’s time, not their energy. They put success before happiness.

The journey to better leadership starts with oneself. It is hardly surprising that the “one killer leadership competency that, if cultivated, would make you a better, more positive leader in every way”, is self-awareness.

If you aren’t aware of how you come across to others and how you affect their ability to work, you are simply not able to improve your leadership ability.

At the most basic level, a leader is charged with working hard to liberate the human talent in the organisation, not limit it. Frighteningly, a Gallup study of 7 272 US workers found that 50% had left their jobs just to get away from their managers! 

Self-awareness is achieved by widely known methods such as getting a ‘3600 feedback’ assessment from those you work with, or using the ‘Johari Window’ model for similar feedback.

Getting feedback should not be a terrifying event: the fact is that what others think of you, is what they think of you whether you know it or not. The advantage of knowing is that you can correct or improve, which you cannot do in ignorance.

Leadership 'star quality'

“Being positive and authentic can help you get a piece of the star quality that all leaders want," Mühlfeit asserts.

This star quality is a function of three characteristics. The first is “Presence”, making the other person feel that you are really there with them, and this cannot be faked. The key to making people feel good about themselves is not trying to impress them with your amazing personality.

To get the most out of your team requires the correct focus and effort. Following the advice of German statesman and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe will help the focus aspect: “If you treat people as they are, they will stay as they are. But if you treat them as they ought to be, they will become bigger and better persons.”

If you have any doubt as to why you should be expending any special effort on developing your team, it is useful to remember that your people’s success is in fact how others measure your success as the leader.

“All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get,” David Hanna wrote, and just a few moments of reflection will convince you of that statement’s truth.

Organisational culture or design is a silent but powerful force. It can encourage creativity, productivity and staff engagement and be energising.  

Conversely, it can be a force for disengagement, thoughtless work, collegial abuse, and poor output. Just as the organisation gets what it is designed for, it is up to the leader to ensure the right culture emerges.

A critical element in getting the productivity that any organisation needs is to ensure the people in the organisation have the energy required to make that happen.

The burnout scourge

Far more common than staff bristling with energy and enthusiasm is constant tiredness, anxiety, increasing frustration with the job and colleagues, difficulty in concentrating and having a pessimistic and negative outlook.

These are the common symptoms of ‘burnout’. Half of all full-time employees in the UK feel this way.

The key to how we can avoid burnout is not how we manage our time, but rather how we manage our energy.

From working with world-class athletes, performance psychologists Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz have identified four main sources of energy: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. By carefully managing the quantity and quality of energy we use daily, we can revitalise ourselves and “refuel”.

In so many company cultures, sleep deprivation and caffeine addiction are worn like a corporate badge of honour – a symbol of one’s heroic dedication to the work.

The truth is that a week of sleeping only four or five hours a night impairs your cognitive abilities to an equivalent of blood alcohol levels of 0.1% (legally, alcohol intoxication is often defined as blood alcohol concentrations of anywhere from 0.025-0.080%!).

CEO equals chief energy officer

All leaders need to see themselves as CEOs – chief energy officers. Seeing work as a marathon or a sprint is misleading. It is best understood when seen as “running a marathon in a series of sprints”.

This is the optimal approach to managing our energy. The breaks in between the sprints allow time for planning, preparation, rejuvenation and reflection. Without breaks, one only reaches about 25% of one’s potential across a workday, when one could reach 90% with breaks.

The books ends with chapters extolling the value of being happy. Many have mistaken happiness as the result of success. Success, even measured monetarily, only makes for happiness at the lower levels of income where it alleviates the pain of poverty.

Anywhere above this level, “hedonic adaptation” kicks in where we get used to a particular level very quickly, and then become unhappy again.

Success doesn’t make one happy. Happiness makes one successful. Happier employees are directly linked to a stronger bottom line. This positivity/performance nexus has been confirmed in study after study.

People with positive mindsets have 25% greater energy under stress, are 31% more productive, have 37% higher sales, and are 40% more likely to be promoted.

Leaders as chief energy officers would do well to attend to the happiness of their staff - and this book offers much sound advice on that score too.

However, the sheer volume of models, techniques, advice, and methods covered in the book leaves you feeling like you are trying to drink from a firehose. That said, this a fine book with the dominant theme of leader responsibility for self- and staff-development, which is well worth ploughing through. 

Readability:        Light ---+- Serious

Insights:            High --+-- Low

Practical:            High -+--- Low

  • Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.

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ian mann  |  leadership  |  opinion  |  book review
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