Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Are You Managing Penguins or Polar Bears?

"Leadership is about managing energy, first in yourself and then in those around you."

In a recent UNH Executive Development Program, the instructor, Professor Jim Clawson, challenged a group a senior managers to reflect on how they are managing their personal energy, and as leaders, the impact they are having on their employee’s energy. 

He used the following short videos to illustrate the difference between high energy (penguins) and low energy (polar bears) employees (minus the titles on this YouTube version):

How about you? In your individual and team meetings with your employees and others, are they leaving the meeting as penguins or polar bears? And how are you showing up?
Great leaders raise the energy level – and bring out the best in those around them. Their positive outlook and attitude is infectious. You can walk into any work environment and feel the energy (or lack of).

I can’t help but think of current examples from professional football. Robert Griffin (RG3) is a penguin quarterback, and you can see the positive impact he has on his team and the entire city of Washington. Jay Cutler, on the other hand, while a very talented quarterback, comes across to be as a bit of a polar bear. No emotions at all – in fact, he often appears to be sulking. See the popular Jay Cutler smoking meme.
So what can a manager do to create more penguins and less polar bears? It’s unrealistic to expect dramatic changes in the energy level of any employee – after all, there’s a lot more that comes into play other than the impact of a manager, even a great leader. However, there are a few important aspects of managing employee energy that a leader can impact, including:
1.  Start with yourself. As a manager, how are you showing up – as a penguin or polar bear? If you’re more on the polar bear end of the energy spectrum, perhaps it’s time to get some balance in your life. A few years ago I learned about the field of positive psychology, and I think it made a difference for me. If you are not familiar with it, I’d recommend this 23 minute Ted Talk for an overview. 

2. Give your employees more control over their work. Again, there is science to support this recommendation – see another Ted Talk, Dan Pink’s The Puzzle of Motivation. People are motivated when they have choices, or are empowered. They drag their rear ends when they are told what to do – even when they are “incented” – and it becomes an nothing more than an obligation. 

Once you get them a sense of control and ownership, then get out of the way! Micromanagement will polarbearize an employee who may have started out with penguin enthusiasm.

3. Stop sucking the energy out of your employees through your own annoying behaviors. The BEST list of “energy draining” (and annoying) manager behaviors comes from Marshall Goldsmith’s book What Got You Here Won't Get You There. Here’s a summary. For example, stop trying to "add too much value" - i.e., feel compelled to add your own two cents to every one of your employee's ideas. Others include not listening, not expressing gratitude, or the need to blame everyone but yourself.
The good news is, any of these behaviors are relatively easy to correct. You don’t have to learn anything new – you just need to stop doing each any of them!
Not sure if you’re being annoying? Then get some feedback and act on it.

Penguins or polar bears? The choice is yours.


Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. I was entertained and informed in a useful, fun way. You made your points, referenced some admirable people (Martin Seligman, Marshall Goldsmith, Robert Griffin III, et.al.), and convinced me that the penguin way is the way be.

Dan McCarthy said...

Ron -
Thanks for the feedback, I'm glad it hit the mark for you.

Beth Miller said...

Dan, this brings back memories of both great leaders and poor ones, yet I never thought of energy being one of the key factors. Now I have two new terms for leadership and I would rather work with penguins!

Dave Lantow said...

Great Post. I'm challenged to think of my behavior today as a leader. Thanks.

Dan McCarthy said...

Beth -
Thanks for your comment. Me too!

Dave -
Thanks. I think we all have our polar bear days, don't we?

Virginia Luque said...

Thanks, Sean, for this interesting article.

Brian said...

This has given me something to think about. I have never really given much thought too how much my energy level effects my employees. When I arrive at work - I am the polar bear. After a little bit I loosen up and am a different person. I will now be more conscious of how I am when I get to work. Good article !!!

Dan McCarthy said...

Virginia -
Sean? Well, I've been called worse. But you are welcome. (-:

Brian -
Thanks. That's why we have learned to harness the power of the coffee bean.

pananasia said...

Thank you for this post.

Dan McCarthy said...

pananasia -
you're welcome!

Achim Nowak/www.influens.com said...

Funny - Dan just posted a guest blog of mine about personal energy, and I was tickled to find this post from a few week's back. I love how Jim Clawson so clearly shows what happens when our personal energy is "off." I concur-it doesn't matter how efficient or articulate we are, without positive personal energy we will not succeed!

Dan McCarthy said...

Achim -
Well of course I planned it that way! (-:
Thanks again for your post.

Jolymon said...

This reminds me of a short course we ran for motivation when I worked for P & G. We called it "How to Motivate a Meatball"

BTW this reallly needs to be applied as well as a measure of politicians ability to inspire. Compare the present US president with say a Ronald Reagan. No prizes for which is the polar bear in the room.

Dan McCarthy said...

Really? A meatball? I'm dying to know the answer.