The Coaching Manager’s Secrets to Igniting Energy

Aug 05, 2015

By Dan Rockwell

Are your employees starting to feel fatigued at work? Dan Rockwell has been a leadership consultant for 15 years and is the author of “Leadership Freak,” one of the most socially shared leadership blogs for three years. Dan was also named one of AMA’s Top 30 Leaders in Business for 2014, and he recently sat down with AMA to discuss this topic.

AMA: We’ve all had conversations about what we intend to do, and how we’re going to kick butt in the future. Now we have to act on it. Now we have to “ignite the energy.” So how do we do that? How do we light the fuse?

DR: Everything requires energy, and we can go nowhere without it. This is where sometimes we fail, because we think a great plan is going to work without work. It’s sort of like, “Build it, and they will come.” Plan it, and it will happen, and that is not the case at all. This is where the opportunity and ability to monitor and manage energy is one of the more powerful opportunities for the coaching manager.

I think it’s mostly observation.  So, I’m having conversations with people that I lead, and all of a sudden, it seems like out of the blue their eyes light up, and they lean forward, so I’m watching for that body language.  I’m watching for the tone of voice that kind of elevates a little bit.  I’m watching for the raising of the eyebrows. Sometimes, I’ll actually stop and say, “Hey, what just happened?  Something ignited in you, something clicked.  What were you thinking?  What was going on?” Because I am constantly thinking about what it is that gives you energy.  My job then, once I figure that out, is to make sure that I use the language that you use.

So, energizing people means really adapting to their passion.  And this is my problem.  I don't know about you.  My problem is that, you know, my way is the right way, and my language is the right language. As a manager, what I’m finding out and what I think we all start to learn is that it really doesn’t matter what my way is if it doesn’t work for the people who are actually doing the work.  Igniting energy has a lot to do with watching people.

It deals with being solution-focused versus being problem-focused.  It’s so draining to just talk about problems all the time, and, frankly, I’ve been to those meetings. It’s just one problem after another.  It’s so much better to talk about solutions, and simply ask the question, “How can we make it better?” which is a totally different orientation.

AMA: It seems that a fair number of teams and organizations are getting brainstorm fatigue because they’re being asked for brilliant new creative ideas; they’re being challenged to think out of the box, yet these ideas aren’t implemented. There’s a certain amount of brainstorming fatigue or burnout that comes from challenging your employees to think creatively about problem solving or new products or services, and then not acting on that.  It’s sort of like the suggestion box that’s filled, but they don't go anywhere. How can employers avoid brainstorm fatigue?

DR: One of the ways to energize people is to stop doing things that de-energize them, and the list is long.  It’s everything from not listening to being overly directive to being isolated.

The other thing, that is very specific and powerful, is that progress energizes. Progress energizes, and that’s why, as a manager, it’s important to design projects and initiatives with milestones; and once those milestones are reached, have a moment of celebration or a big celebration just as long as you also look forward at the same time. I think it’s possible to celebrate progress and also look forward.

However, it’s also important to choose what to celebrate.  In other words, if you celebrate arrival, if you celebrate we reached the goal, then that’s one kind of celebration. But, if you celebrate all the hard work that it took, “Hey, did you see Bob?  He was in early this morning.  He took care of strategizing for our next meeting.  He came in early,” and, “Hey, Bob thanks for coming in early to celebrate hard work, to celebrate passion.”  I think that also moves the ball down the field.

Lastly, the coaching manager needs to focus on people, and this is also a challenge.  All of these things reflect somewhat of a shift from traditional management to a coaching style management, because traditional managers really just focused on a project. Now, managers realize that projects are always completed by people, and it’s not the project that we need to focus on; it’s the people.

One of the ways to do this is to make sure that the people who are doing the work are the ones that you spend most of your time thinking and talking about, while also exploring options with them, because they are the people who really know the most. Success is always about people.  You can have the best process in the world, but you’ve got to have people that do it.  You can have the best project in the world, but without people, that project is never going to get done. For more leadership expertise from Dan Rockwell, check out his free webcast.

About The Author

Dan Rockwell is an American Management Association Top 30 Business Leader and author of the popular Leadership Freak Blog.