How the Best Leaders Shift the Energy on Their Team


How the Best Leaders Shift the Energy on Their Team

The energy on a team is no accident. When it’s in the room, it can’t be mistaken. People are engaged, excited and strive to perform at their best.  

The tricky question is, where does it come from, and what is it?

Energy is defined as the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. In the context of leadership and teams, I simplify it as “the ability to do great work with optimistic effort.”  

When teams have the right kind of energy, it impacts the consistency, intensity, and speed at which members give effort, work together and perform. On a recent episode of Work-Life, Hubert Joly, the former CEO of Best Buy credited energy as a key to the company’s transformation and turnaround. He said, “I needed people’s help from the beginning, and that created energy to attack the real problems together.” Joly facilitated this by asking associates and general managers three simple questions:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What’s not working?
  3. What do you need?

What Joly understood was traditional thinking about energy on a team only coming from results wasn’t entirely true. Energy ultimately comes from people. If you take nothing else away from this column, I want you to take away this;  

One person can completely change the energy on a team or in a room.  

This principle can be positive or negative, depending on the situation. 

Energy Roles on a Team

John Wooden, one of the best college basketball coaches and examples of leadership, said, “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm. Our energy is infectious, whether it’s lethargic or enthusiastic is a choice we make each day.”  

What this ultimately means is the energy each person, especially a leader, brings to a team can be positive, negative, or even neutral. I summarize these into three roles. 

The Reducer- A reducer is an energy suck at its core and is destructive. People who choose to be a reducer enhance feelings of doubt, worry, and frustration. They cause team members to get negative and blame each other for mistakes or bad outcomes. These people are what my friend John Gordon, the author of the Energy Bus and Power of a Positive Team, calls an “energy vampire.” 

The Neutralizer – A neutralizer, doesn’t bring energy one way or another. They rarely create positive or negative energy, but they go along with the current energy or what they experience around them.  

The Enhancer – An enhancer is constructive, lifts people up, and encourages themselves and others to look for opportunities in every situation. Enhancers aren’t blindly optimistic. Instead, they embrace reality but choose hope. 

Regardless of your role on your team, there is one certain thing. The best leaders find a way to enhance energy, not reduce it. They find ways to build up, not tear down. They find creative ways to elevate the energy of their people. 

Great leaders find a way to elevate the team’s energy.

However, it’s easy to tell yourself and others to be an enhancer, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. Intentionally choosing and being a leader that constantly thinks about and modifies the energy of a team isn’t easy. Creative methods and techniques often are required to trick your brain and others into looking at the light instead of the dark. Here are a few ways to make it happen:

1. Cultivate Energy in Yourself 

While it’s true some people wake up with excitement that mimics the energizer bunny, most people don’t have that luxury.  

What’s required is doing and consuming life-giving, not life-depleting things. While each person is different, the shared examples include exercising, writing, reading, praying, journaling, competing, meditating, and fueling (diet). Since energy, like motivation, is a depleting asset, creating daily habits that cultivate energy in yourself is required.  

2. Appeal to Emotions Through Mantras

Mantras may only be a few words long, but they can have a powerful stirring up emotions that create energy in an individual or team. After studying great leaders in different industries, it’s clear they tap into their power to help inspire their team. I refer to these in Building the Best as “Maximizing Mantras.” With just a few words, you create the inspirational drive that helps inspire future successes.

One of the most recent (and well-known) maximizing mantras was college football coach P.J. Fleck’s “Row the Boat,” which helped bring the previously overlooked Western Michigan football team into the limelight with a winning record and a spot in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. The mantra has come to define the coach and his teams, even after moving to a new job at the University of Minnesota.

In an interview with MLive, Fleck explained that the mantra referred to three parts: the oar, which provided the energy, the boat, which represented the sacrifices that team members, administration, and fans were willing to make for the program, and finally, the compass, which symbolized the direction the team wanted to go. Combining all these ideas into a single phrase served as a powerful motivator for the team.

When you find short, simple phrases that encapsulate big ideas, you can quickly create an energy in yourself or in a team that didn’t exist before.

3. Shrink Negativity to 1 Minute or Less

Most people would say to eliminate all negativity regardless of the cost. In a perfect world, this is excellent advice. But this isn’t possible since you lead yourself and others in an imperfect world. Instead of trying to eliminate negative energy, look to shrink it.  

A negative comment or a poor reaction to an unfortunate situation won’t eliminate all positive energy, especially if you shrink it to one minute or less. What ends up happening is both you and your team will become more self-aware of their comments and reaction that hurt future performance versus help it. 


The best leaders understand that energy on a team isn’t an accident. It’s something they constantly monitor and intentionally choose to enhance daily. If you prioritize cultivating energy in yourself, appealing to emotions through a maximizing mantra, and shrinking negativity to 1 minute or less, you will be mimicking the best leaders. 

Will it be easy with all the negative news of a possible recession or uncertainty in the business world? No, it will not. But you wouldn’t be in the position you are in today if you weren’t capable of elevating your team’s energy. 

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.