The High Price of Being a Low Energy Leader


Published on: October 2018

Written by: Elizabeth Freedman

Here’s a simple way to imagine what’s required of you to operate at the highest level of your role: 100 watts of energy.

What does that really mean?  It’s a concept that I heard recently in a podcast that applies to the work of any senior leader. Imagine that you only get 100 watts of energy in a single day. No more, no less, and the bigger, more demanding, more complex your role, the more you’ll need to be extremely disciplined and focused about where you spend your energy. Because the truth is, your job is too big to be operating under anything than 100. You can’t afford to give away a single watt on anything other than high value, high impact activities.

Given that, consider how you may be unintentionally giving away wattage throughout your day to unproductive activities or actions. In our work with senior leaders, we know that executive stamina and energy is a huge differentiator in driving success and an area where we can exercise greater influence and control.  Consider:

Many of us are already operating at a deficit before we’ve even gotten out of bed. 

Simple choices from yesterday (staying up too late, shortchanging yourself on sleep, worrying about a tough relationship) are all major energy-draining activities that can easily spill into the next day if we’re not careful. Travel, meetings, and the daily blocking and tackling of a senior leader’s job demand significant energy, so start to notice your ‘wattage’ when you start your day. If it’s less than 100, start to assess yesterday’s activities and refuse to carry them into today.

Low energy leaders pay a high price.

At Bates, we’ve studied the relationship between executive energy and stamina and its direct link to being seen as influential. Using the ExPITM (Executive Presence Index), the first-ever scientifically validated tool that measures executive presence and influence, we’ve analyzed data from thousands of senior leaders to assess the degree to which a leader can drive execution through his/her ability to engage, align, and inspire others to act. What the research highlights is how low energy leaders have to work much harder to get above-and-beyond commitment from others. In part, this is because it’s more challenging for leaders with lower energy to manage their less productive behaviors. Let’s face it:  It takes more energy to successfully navigate a difficult client conversation, lead organizational change, or tackle a complex problem. It also takes energy to try to make new, positive changes in how you’re leading or operating.  It’s why energy continues to be identified by many senior leaders as their differentiator and ‘secret weapon’ for achieving success.

Give yourself an energy audit.

Protecting energy is critical, so give yourself an audit to objectively evaluate where you may be giving away energy.  For instance, are you:

  • Doing work that is far outside the scope of your role or that ‘belongs’ to other people?
  • Walking out of meetings with a much longer ‘to do’ list than everyone else?
  • Being overly deferential instead of acting like a peer?
  • Taking on the role of therapist for a coworker or manager?
  • Staying silent in meetings, holding back, and avoiding difficult conversations?
  • Overpreparing for meetings, scenario-planning to the nth degree ‘just in case’?
  • Still angry about last week’s email?

Pick 1-2 areas that are draining your energy and commit to putting an end to giving your ‘wattage’ away and add energy-giving behaviors that allow you to work and live at even higher levels.

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