Positively Energizing Leaders Are Heliotropic
August 2, 2021
Professor at University of Michigan | Author of Positively Energizing Leadership
TopicsEnergizing Leaders, Inspirational Leadership, Lead Positive, Leadership, Positive Energy
The heliotropic effect describes the inherent tendency in all living things toward positive energy and away from negative energy. In nature, the sun is the source of positive, life-giving energy, so the heliotropic effect explains why plants and other organisms lean toward the light over time. It is inherent in the cells of living systems.
This phenomenon has important implications for leaders because human beings likewise have an inherent tendency toward positive, life-giving energy. Much scientific research confirms this fact. Leaders can capitalize on this tendency in order to help their employees and their organizations flourish.
My own research on positive energy over the last decade has shown that when leaders display positively energizing behaviors, the effects are almost always noteworthy. Profitability, productivity, and quality rise substantially compared to other organizations. Customer and employee loyalty increase significantly. Organizational change initiatives are more widely accepted.
What, then, are positively energizing behaviors? Are there prescriptions that can guide leaders in becoming positively energizing?
Among the prescriptions are:
- In trying times—including the recent spate of earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, cyberattacks, ethical lapses, injustices, and the worldwide pandemic—the tendency of most people is to focus on the uncomfortable, the uncertainty, the misfortunes, and what is wrong in our world. Positively energizing leaders don’t prescribe mere cheerfulness, positive thinking, or unbridled optimism in these conditions, but they demonstrate virtuous behaviors—including gratitude, humility, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, compassion, and integrity. Multiple studies show that experiencing or observing virtuousness is heliotropic and leads to positive energy and thriving, especially in difficult times.
- A variety of forms of energy exist including physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and relational energy. Each of the first three forms of energy diminishes with use. They require recuperation or recovery time when expended. Relational energy actually elevates with use. It is renewing. Positive energizing leaders invest time and resources in personal relationships so that they are elevating, replenishing, and life-giving. They inspire people to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more by demonstrating virtuous behaviors.
- Leaders are often defined as the most extroverted, the most charismatic, or those with the most influence. But research shows that positive energy is significantly more important in predicting performance than is influence, information, title, or seniority. Positively energizing leaders not only demonstrate life-giving energy themselves, but they identify and capitalize on the positive energizers in their organizations. They mobilize energizers to help create positive change.
- Most case studies in business school courses and most agenda items in company meetings challenge employees to solve problems and figure out how to overcome obstacles. The most attention is given to deficit gaps, or the gaps between poor performance and acceptable performance. Solving problems is the goal. Positively energizing leaders also address abundance gaps, or the gaps between acceptable performance and spectacular, extraordinary performance. They spend time pursuing positively deviant performance, or the achievement of their highest aspirations. Becoming extraordinary is the goal.
- If an airplane takes off from Washington’s Reagan International Airport and travels around the world intending to return to Washington D.C., but it is consistently off course by one degree, the plane will land south of Atlanta, Georgia, or north of Bangor, Maine. A small change puts us in a very different place over time. Positively energizing leaders identify 1% improvements that they implement and stick with. They implement small, consistent changes and build momentum with small wins and small bursts of energy.
Positively energizing leadership has been shown to promote exceptionally successful performance in organizations and their employees. It capitalizes on the natural attraction that all human beings have to positive, life-giving energy.