Leadership is a topic that human beings never get tired of talking about. For good reason: it’s a topic that brings up big issues. Can we trust appointed leaders to use their power and influence well? How comfortable are we with people using authority at all?
Swinburne University of Technology’s Professor Nita Cherry offers a new way of thinking about leadership in her recently published book Energising Leadership.
The book covers a range of practices that are useful in dealing with common leadership dilemmas and focuses on professional leadership as deliberate, discerning, intentional behaviour, rather than as an unconscious set of habits or inherent personal traits.
Professor Cherry said leaders need to be sensitive to the way in which human energy is mobilised and focused, and how easily it can be drained and wasted.
“In practice, leaders usually don’t even think about how their decisions will impact the human energies on which their groups and organisations depend. If they think about people, they are more likely to think about the skills needed than the energies required,” Professor Cherry said.
“The most obvious sign of failed leadership is when a leader starts out with a highly self-energised group of people and then has said or done things that leave them discouraged, disinterested or cynical.
“Many people very quickly lose energy when they are micro-managed by a controlling leader or have a leader who is critical and aloof. And even highly self-motivated people don’t maintain the same levels of energy. Sometimes they get tired, discouraged, bored.”
Professor Cherry said the work of leadership is to pay attention to these ups and downs in the patterns of energy going on around them.
“It is important to notice how people’s energy is stimulated - and drained - in face-to-face encounters, by words and behaviour. And to do things that help to keep energy productively in play, over the long haul.
Professor Cherry said the time is ripe to focus on the work of leadership, and not just the people who are leaders.
“In my own consulting over the decades, I have noticed that as soon as people are asked what they think leadership is, they start to talk about specific individuals and the qualities they associate with them. Or they start to criticise the shortcomings of leaders they have worked with themselves.
“It’s important to focus on what leaders do, not just who they are.”
Nita Cherry is a Professor of Leadership at Swinburne. She has over thirty-five years’ experience as a senior executive, management consultant, director, psychologist, educator and researcher.
Energising Leadership is published by Oxford University Press.
Read Professor Cherry's 6 steps to refresh, refocus and recalibrate your energies that can help interrupt a routine response which may occur when facing challenges or setbacks at work.