A few years back, Saturday Night Live had a great reoccurring character known as Debbie Downer. Regardless of the positive activity and energy in the room, Debbie (played brilliantly by Rachel Dratch) would drain all of the energy in the room with just one depressing comment. Although she is an extreme, one of the reasons that skit resonates with so many is because we all know someone a bit like that.
Have you ever considered how you affect your work environment? How do co-workers feel after they leave even a short conversation with you? Are they inspired, motivated and energized? Does your passion for your work come through? Are you a battery charger or a battery drainer?
A while back, Gretchen Rubin blogged about the difference between “energizers” and “de-energerizers” at work. Based on Cross and Parker’s research on “The Hidden Power of Social Networks” Ruben writes that energizers are higher performers and more engaging while de-energizers are largely avoided and see only roadblocks in potential endeavors. I couldn’t agree more.
Energy is an essential component to a positive work environment. However, energy is only part of it. I’m not talking about adding a coffee machine to every meeting; I’m talking about positive, high impact interactions. Work environments can be high energy (and high drama) and be very negative, unproductive—even toxic. What makes a workplace flourish is the number of positive PEOPLE who frequent it, which ultimately leads to frequent positive interactions.
You don’t have to be a manager to positively impact the environment in a way that adds real value. Anyone can and should be a battery charger at work. Around my office that upbeat “can-do” perspective is one of the core competencies I look for. I regularly ask managers discussing a potential hire, “Are they a battery charger? Or battery drainer?” The answer to that question can make all the difference. This dynamic is even more important when you are a leader and help set the tone for the organization.
As a leader, one of your most critical tasks is to have a vision and to communicate that vision to your staff—motivating them to reach goals and accomplishing great outcomes; but it’s more than that. Whether it’s an informal conversation in the hallway or an hour-plus long meeting, employees should feel a heightened sense of purpose and energy after interacting with you. Yes, this is accomplished by showing a genuine interest in projects, providing honest feedback and holding true to your role as a leader—but it may be even more crucial that you present yourself as positive and passionate about your core mission and where you are all going together.
Far too often, the opposite is true. Employees can feel weighed down and worn out after interacting with their manager. Sometimes managers act disinterested, look at their blackberry too much, don’t make eye-contact or give off the impression that they “don’t have time” for thoughtful questions or project updates. Interacting with employees in this way will only drain batteries and decrease productivity. Leadership has its burdens but you can’t let those responsibilities drag down the entire workplace. Also, in this, as in all things—perception matters.
My Elevator Story
You are always on. It is easy to forget that staff is always aware of where you are and how you are doing. Early in my career as Deputy Mayor and Managing Director of the City, I stepped into the elevator in my building very deep in thought. Ordinarily, I am naturally friendly and outgoing. This day, I was focused on a thorny problem and all the complex moving parts involved in a potential solution when I failed to notice that the elevator was full of people, some of which would be in an important meeting with me later in the day. I stepped off the elevator (still deep in thought) and into my office without saying a word (Not like me but I was distracted). A few moments later, a member of my staff came in and asked, “Is everything okay?”
“Sure,” I said. “Why?”
Apparently, everyone on the elevator thought I was quiet because I was upset or unsupportive and they were looking at me to gauge my enthusiasm for the subject of the meeting that was to occur later. They thought my behavior was “a bad sign.” Nothing could have been farther from the truth. My silence was interpreted in a manner I did not intend and I realized how important even casual interactions and my personal energy was to my role.
As managers, our days are often burdened by bad news or difficult situations. Often we are stressed, hard-pressed to concentrate and sometimes even worried. As leaders, we must be battery chargers and problem solvers—not battery drainers or downers. If we fail to demonstrate positive energy and even go so far as to use our time for “venting sessions” the workplace will feel the impact. This can also manifest itself in sarcasm and criticism that is personality based and very negative. Using meetings to talk about your own problems, or others, is a bad use of time and an even worse use of everyone’s energy.
Your Power Grid
The opposite is also true. If you surround yourself with battery chargers and work hard to stay positive and passionate, that will spread throughout your organization. This doesn’t mean you ignore difficult circumstances and look at life through rose-colored glasses. You just address challenges with energy, motivation and positive communication that results in better performance.
Management comes with a long list of responsibilities; if you haven’t already added “battery charger” to your list you are making a mistake. “Charge” and lift-up; don’t “drain” and drag-down. Positive, passionate energy can be the lifeblood of a productive work environment. And that type of winning attitude is contagious—it may even spread to your Debbie Downers. How do you keep the batteries charged in your place?
Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.