Positive Leadership Starts with Internal Changes

February 11, 2020

Positive Leadership Starts with Internal Changes

Anese Cavanaugh is on a mission to help leaders cultivate team health, maximize impact and optimize culture through intention, energy and presence (IEP).  Author of Contagious Culture and The Leader You Will Be, she is now focusing on the inner life of leaders in her book, Contagious You. Here she dives into why self-reflection and positive energy are critical tools for leaders. 

HR People + Strategy: What made you write Contagious You?

Anese Cavanaugh: My previous book, Contagious Culture, grew out of need to address that culture was not external. Leaders and employees would think that culture was something that someone else made or something that happened to them. But truly, culture is made by every one of us from the top to the bottom. Every person has power and influence in that culture. You cannot have successful culture initiatives if everyone believes culture just happens to them. So the book helped people realize that culture is a collective effort. 

After that, people asked me how to change the people around them who weren’t doing the same work on culture. This idea of “I get it but the people around me don’t.” So Contagious You is to give people more tools to address this situation. 

HRPS: Why is it important for leaders to self-reflect and be authentic?

AC: We are at a point where people know when something is not authentic and there is little tolerance for that inauthenticity. Even greater authenticity, connection and presence will be required for the future. 

Think about it in terms of expansion and contraction. Great leaders, those who are authentic and present, create a sense of expansion. Leaders with negative energy and little desire for connection create contraction. We can feel whether a person is expanding or contracting in each interaction. 

Today’s C-suite leaders have a great opportunity to model the intention, energy and presence (IEP) needed in the company. By practicing this IEP method, executives can inspire everyone to be a part of the culture. 

HRPS: How can leaders use these techniques to prevent burnout and disengagement in themselves and in their companies? 

AC: Intention plays a huge role in how I show up to those around me. If I am burned out and exhausted, that shows up in how I interact with others. It creates a sense of contraction. Checking intention before acting is the start of the internal game. The internal game also requires stamina to continue to make an impact and presence to put forward the right energy to create the impact. 

If I’m not taking care or paying attention, that’s where it leads to burnout. That’s an extended contraction state. Everything that’s important for leadership and culture is external but it all starts internally. 

HRPS: How can these techniques help team and whole organizations?

AC: Let me give you an example. I helped a financial services organization learn this IEP method. This company had previously done lots of leadership development, Six Sigma and other training programs. We introduced 160 leaders to this IEP methodology in a two-day deep dive. 

After the program, without saying anything, people noticed the difference in those leaders and responded. Just by changing their internal energy and presence, other employees began to react in positive ways. 

The awareness of intentions can be a game changer. That’s the part that was contagious. 

HRPS: What is the role of energy at work? Can leaders shape the energy in a company?

AC: We can all be the negative or low-energy person at one time or another. It’s key not to blame people but just be aware that we can all be that way at one time. 

If I’m leading a meeting and there is a negative energy person, my first step is to not get hooked into that negativity. Then you can get curious about the energy. Perhaps you can check in with each person or the team as to where the energy level is. It needs to be ok for someone to have an off day. Maybe acknowledge the negative person and ask for their input. You can also pull the person aside for coaching. It’s about understanding that we each bring energy that impacts the room. 

HRPS: What advice do you have for the next generation of leaders?

AC: First, be really clear about your intentions: your intention for impact, intention for connection, etc. Second, take very good care of yourself. Have the energy and stamina to make that impact. Third, be present to yourself, to what is true for you, and to those around you. 

The Authors: 

Anese Cavanaugh is author of Contagious CultureThe Leader You Will Be, and Contagious You.