I hope you have already seen this or even experienced it yourself, this fantastic phenomenon of completely mobilized human energy: You step into a sports hall, a workshop or a project area and you immediately realize: Something is happening here! People seem to be driven by something that brings them closer together, lets them be focused and that encourages them to act together. All actors have signs of joy in their eyes, forget time, space, yes even their sense of hunger and even abandon their ingrained fears in view of their sublime targets.
This is all about a group experience, similar to the so-called “flow”. This word describes the exhilarating feeling of a complete mental “absorption” and integration into a particular activity – which makes you forget time and space . But how do you create such a feeling on the level of an entire organization? The increasingly considered leadership theory of Organizational Energy asks this question: The theory makes human energy assessable and measurable on an organizational level. And something that can be measured, can also be managed.
For that purpose, the Swiss Professor Heike Bruch and her team have evaluated the level of energy in already more than 800 companies and of 23,000 respondents worldwide . Their classification of energy types offers a simple and helpful scheme for such a complex topic. They discovered four types of energy in organizations, which can be differentiated based on intensity (high/low) and quality (positive/negative).
Productive energy: “Full tilt”– this is the type of energy that united Germany and incited the German football team to win the World Cup. Jogi Low, the German national team manager, knew how to create a high intensity of positive energy. High engagement for a common cause and an intrinsic productivity are the characteristics of this desirable type of energy, which can frequently be found in innovative start-ups or in well-prepared workshops.
Pleasant energy: “Fat and happy” is the brief description of this type of energy. The parties strongly identify themselves with the status quo. Due to a low positive energy intensity, a feel-good atmosphere is created. After phases of great exertion, this type of energy is important and contributes significantly to stability and continuity of a company. However, this type of energy also contains a latent immobility if it is taken for granted for too long. Shame on those who feel reminded of a (certainly wrong) stereotype of a German office.
Corrosive energy: “We are on strike!”- a highly intensive, emotionally charged, but negative energy level that transfers this type of energy into a real killer with disastrous impacts on the affected organization. It is highly important to avoid this energy type. Organizations and projects waste their valuable organizational energy due to lighter symptoms such as energy-intensive micro politics, power struggles and single persons who only want to maximize their own advantages – and this is why they will fall by the wayside in the external competition.
Resigned inertia: This type of energy transfers “an inner termination”, where trust is broken and where no light at the end of the tunnel is seen anymore. Resigned lethargy means that negative energy in the form of weakness and powerlessness paralyzes the organization and leads to a high level of frustration among employees and managers. Usually, organizations in a crisis or without clear goals victimize themselves.
Mobilize this energy type within your organization!
The target is clear: It is all about releasing productive energies. But what is necessary to achieve this? And how can an organization reach the top right quadrant within our matrix?
The most important message of the studies is: The influencing factor that mostly decides about a positive or negative energy profile in organization is – you may already guess it: Effective leadership work. According to the research team you can decide between the following two measures:
Slaying the Dragon
“Slaying the Dragon”. This martial metaphor stands for a strategy that is about creating a strong fighting spirit. You use a dragon for that, which means a serious threat or danger which must be averted by all means. Significant components are a conscious triggering of a sense of urgency, a mobilization of sleeping survival instincts and a great certainty in your statements (highly topical – please see “We make it!”*). The greatest challenge is to involve ALL parties. Or in other words: Only as a team you can slay the dragon!
And what is the precise way to slay the dragon?
- Analyze and develop a precise picture of a possible problem or threat. What are the possible impacts? What is it all about? Become pictorial. Inspire and address people’s feelings. And please do not skip anything. Protecting somebody means to incapacitate him and playing down the dragon means that you do not know your enemy in the fight.
- Share this picture with the people and create trust – through transparency and by dealing openly with serious and critical information. Invite to face the threat together.
- Strengthen people’s confidence about the fact that the situation can be mastered together. In the end, this will release the necessary energy.
-> Awake the positive fighting spirit that is waiting in your team to be woken up (again)!
Winning the Princess
“Winning the Princess”. Another picture is created. However, energy is transferred into the other, positive, direction: “Towards” instead of “away from”. An attractive target in the future is described with all fabulous details. The beautiful princess walks as often as possible in front of the organization, waves and winks now and then.
- It is all about precisely defining this “princess” in all possible facets and attributes. Create a tangible vision of an attractive future (e.g. new customer, better technology etc.). Use simple words for describing in clear, inspiring and effective ways – for everybody.
- Take enough time for that!
- Involve all parties. Strengthen confidence, to win the princess. Communicate intermediate results, let the princess wink at the organization!
-> Mobilize energy potentials by calling an exceptional opportunity!
The study found that, even if these two options seem to be quite intuitive and traditional at first sight, the majority of managers fail due to two central tasks:
- Formulating the respective picture lively and tangibly and
- transferring it suitably and in right proportions to the people.
With the right communication of your carefully constructed pictures, it will be possible for the analyzed companies to maneuver their organizational energy profiles into the desired direction. Recognizing your own energy profile already helps to make a conscious decision for a strategy and to motivate people even more precisely. Good luck in creating and communicating the dragons and princesses within your organization. You can make it!
 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow : the psychology of optimal experience, New York : Harper Perennial
 Bruch, H. and Vogel, B. (2011) Fully Charged: how great leaders boost their organization’s energy and ignite high performance. Harvard Business Review Press
 We can make it as an allusion to Angela Merkel’s ‚Wir schaffen das‘: ‚We can make it‚ in the German refugee crisis.