The Give and Take of Leadership

I’ve had recovery on my mind a lot lately. Recently, I fell off a horse, breaking my collarbone. After a couple of long days in the hospital (I also had a partially collapsed lung that required a chest tube), I spent my first full day out of the hospital running light errands. My daughter/co-worker did all the driving, so it really was much less effort than a normal full day of work. By evening though, I was disproportionately tired.

My energy expenditures to run my day exceeded the energy needed to help me heal.

Since anyone who knows me will tell you I typically have a lot of energy to spare, it was a good reminder that I don’t have unlimited energy. Recovery is necessary to gather enough energy to go about my daily business. Usually, a good night’s sleep, healthy eating and meditation are enough to keep me going strong. But not when my body is injured and needs the energy to heal.

As I’ve been more mindful of recovery, it’s reminded me of an insight I had with skiing a few years ago. One of my coaches pointed out that I was not creating enough energy behind the boat to get out to the buoy line before the boat pulled me back. Suddenly I saw the idea: I need to gather energy in order to deploy it.

If I don’t “cultivate” enough energy, I will fall short on the result I need. What a simple concept!

Soon, I could see this idea in action everywhere I looked. The project that seemed stalled? No one was taking the reins and creating enough energy to get the team moving. My lackluster garden? Not enough soil preparation to provide the nutrients to grow wonderful plants.  The friendship that seemed shaky? Neither of us was putting any energy or attention into it.
One of my clients told a story that illustrated this principle beautifully. He was the executive sponsor of a multi-year change project in his company. The pressures were tremendous and every second of his day was scheduled. At the close of a team leader meeting, one of his colleagues suggested he walk through the area where a many of the people working on the project were working. At first he declined and then thought better of it. He took an hour to walk around talking to people, thanking them for their work, asking what they needed and generally showing that he cared.

Afterwards, he said he had no idea how much this visit would energize him. It reminded him of what was happening at the ground level of the project and more importantly, he said “This single visit reenergized the whole team. And to think, I almost didn’t do it.”

This simple principle, whether you call it give and take, gather and deploy, cultivate and harvest or something else, underlies all of our endeavors.

We simply cannot harvest something that isn’t there.

We cannot run on an empty tank without severe consequences. Leaders are truly managers of energy.
Where do you need to recover or gather energy? What are the consequences of trying to get the proverbial “blood out of the turnip?” What can you do to energize yourself or others?
Next time you notice something missing, look first for what you might be able to give – it might be the only resource that’s needed.

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