How To Become An Energizer In Groups

I’m participating in Seth Godin’s Marketing Seminar with a lot of other individuals. It expands on his book This Is Marketing. I’ve been reading his blog and books about modern marketing for years. Similar to good marketing practices, influence and persuasion for change are crucial to leadership.

The seminar is designed so that the value we get is dependent on the exchanges we have with our peers. For me, it’s also a laboratory to observe what people do to help each other break through impasses and nudge their peers in the cohort to go further in their thinking.

That behaviour is called energizing and the people who do it are “energizers”, a term Rob Cross writes about. Whether they have the title of leader or not, energizers are informal leaders. They earn their following because people enjoy asking for their view, and many of their ideas are adopted and because of how they make people feel. Knowing how to energize others is valuable wherever we work interdependently with others.

An Energizer’s Impact

Energizers are vital because they encourage greatness, are able to clear the way to see what’s possible and spark others into action. When I work with energizers I often put more discretionary effort into my work. I aim higher and do more because I see that someone cares about what I do, whether or not they share my particular interests and change objectives. They view what I’m doing is important, and they offer me their attention and encouragement in return.

It’s exciting to be in a group with energizers because their energy spreads and others adopt the same behaviours. This serves to strengthen group performance. It’s easy to understand why.

The Skills Energizers Do Well

  • They show up as positive people champions. They may express themselves as persistently invested in engaging with another person and their success. They also might energize by inviting others to think more broadly and more boldly.
  • They ask compelling questions. I’ve observed that people can ask any question on their mind, generate impossible ideas they want to discuss or pull the conversation to where they want it to go without regard for someone’s forward movement. That approach can miss the mark.

What energizers do well is ask compelling questions that are rooted in what the other person needs. For example, a good question turns your focus on the person’s situation or challenge fully. It doesn’t offer a judgement about what you consider to be good or not so good. Also, energizers ask questions that are stripped down. Too many times, a question is really two or three questions embedded in one. That isn’t as effective because the other person can become unclear about what you’re asking. You also flatten the power of the question by lengthening it.

  • Their view of the future is rooted in reality. With every interaction, energizers show that they care enough to contribute and be helpful, not serve as a distraction.
  • They regularly make introductions between people. Energizers link people together either because they are working through the same problem, or they know one person who could help the other. They are super connectors.
  • They are magnificently responsive. They don’t typically bottleneck decisions. Their responsiveness is exciting.

Cultivating A Culture That Promotes Energizers

So how do we create a climate where energizers proliferate? As leaders, we have the opportunity to design group gatherings to deliberately promote energizing behaviours as the group norm.

I lead a group series called Give & Get, for leaders across functions. As the name suggests, participants are guided in an activity to problem solve together, build trust and generate better solutions. They behave as energizers because it’s built into the design of the unique group gathering. You don’t need to have a close relationship with someone to energize them. Energizing behaviours themselves facilitate trust.

In the book The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker discourages people who lead gatherings of any type from being what she calls ‘chill hosts’. She goes on to describe situations in which hosts abdicate their role with the purpose of creating a power-free dynamic, though that’s not what actually happens. Power remains, and confusion sets in.

Who Gets To Be An Energizer?

You might marvel at where energizers get their energy. To find the source of it, we can learn from an outstanding musical performer Jimi Hendrix. At Woodstock, band drummer Mitch Mitchell, having never performed in front of a large crowd before, looked out and the audience and was overwhelmed by the sea of people in front of them. That’s when Hendrix invited the band to focus on the audience’s energy – to take it, use it and then “send” it back. They performed for a full two hours without stopping and closed the festival. Energizers like Hendrix draw from what is around them and recycle energy to others.

Anyone can be an energizer. You don’t need to be a charismatic “rah-rah” extrovert. There are many ways to capture people’s imaginations, create a positive connection, and get people to feel hopeful, leading them to action.

Energizers help us to see how easy it is to affect others, one person or a group at a time. Any of us can energize; it’s easier than you think. Visionary leadership is having people see what’s possible to move them to take action. So many of us are seeking to be sparked.

An earlier version of this article appeared on here.   Credit for the image goes to Park Troopers.

It’s Time to Re-energize Gatherings

I admit it. I have a pet peeve. An itch that Priya Parker’s new book scratches. That gatherings don’t often live up to the hype or their promise.

Meaningful events can happen at work, they can happen at la cirque.

They can happen in training, they can happen when it’s raining.

They can and do happen anywhere!

But they don’t always. That’s why I enjoyed reading The Art of Gathering, a book that tells stories about a rainbow of fantastical gatherings that have gone well, fallen flat or went astray, and the design skills that make gatherings really worthwhile, meaningful and memorable. Among the clever concepts she introduces us to are ‘The Passover Principle’ (getting clear about knowing why this night is different from all other nights), ‘Displacement’ (shifting people outside their habits), and doing ‘Heat Maps’ (to identify where there’s friction between individuals or groups) ahead of time.

Why talk about energized gatherings now?

There are reasons for the interest in re-energizing gatherings right now. So many conferences are bloated with large numbers of attendees in mega-sized hotels listening to presenters that make real person to person connections a challenge. Technology has distracted us from one another and social connections generally. People are spending more time in unproductive meetings. And too many groups suffer from a well-meaning desire not to offend so they avoid the risk of doing or saying anything that could matter, for the sake of keeping harmony.

Like so many, I like to host gatherings with an eye to providing an immersive experience right from setting the purpose, preparing the participant list and designing the welcome, the opening, the activities and right through to the closing. I did this when I led a group to create the first Annual Volunteer Appreciation event for a Food Bank, a summer picnic in a large Toronto park where the staff showed the volunteers, themselves recipients of the Food Bank’s services, how much they meant to them. It was moving to experience the excitement of the honoured guests when the staff served them a meal, as it was when I listened closely to the lyrics when the staff serenaded the volunteers with a song written for them. You could feel the love in the space and observe the pride of membership to this community.

The dual purpose of magnificent gatherings

Creating a series of opportunities for groups and teams to learn about disruptive innovation at an image gallery was also fun to do and produced an entirely different sensibility. Holding it in a small jewel box of a museum set a contemplative mood right from the start. Photographs taken by a large format camera told the stories of the demise of analogue photography and the companies that were once giants such as Kodak and Polaroid. People took in images of empty offices with withered plants that were left behind on the Kodak campus and saw video footage of exploding buildings in Rochester when they were being demolished. Both companies had been known internationally for their innovation and coveted for their talent and technology. In all of this and the workshop afterwards, people began to situate themselves in the face of a future massive disruption in their own industry. Each team brought their own situation to identify its market vulnerabilities and plan forward. These learning gatherings, and many more, were special because the design focused not only on exploring the theme but it shared a second purpose of building connections so that participants saw themselves as belonging to a group in a new way.

Going beyond Martha Stewart’s focus

Priya Parker believes, as I do, that gatherings can be elevated to be human-centred. She likes to say in her media interviews that Martha Stewart ruined us all. I get it. Doting over canapés and fussing over etiquette has overshadowed paying much attention to making connections among people. Parker talks through the principles and design elements essential for a leader or any organizer who runs meetings, town halls, retreats and any form of gathering.

Making it special

Despite this, not all organizations appreciate the potential of going beyond the quotidian. Some time back, I was asked by an organization to run a Give & Get series to build trust and collaboration across silos. I typically signal in every way that the gathering is special. People love it when you take care to make something out of the ordinary happen at work. Nevertheless, the client organization let me know they were unable to hold their Give & Get series off-site, or provide food for the starting activity, or let the space be decorated.  It would have been easy to let it all go, but instead, I resisted the temptation because I knew that in the 2 years of developing Give & Get, I found these elements to add far more to the process and the richness of the results. With some persuasion, we agreed to hold the gathering at a satellite office in a windowed boardroom advantaged by natural light, I arrived with a bountiful bouquet of flowers to grace the main table that signalled a festive mood, and the sponsoring leader dug into his own pockets to bring food for everyone. Let me be clear, the gathering wasn’t a success because of the location, the flowers or the food. All the design elements in total played a role shaping the experience and the meaning people gave to the event. It also impacted the participants’ sense of belonging and their identity within the group.

I’ve spent a lifetime participating and running programs of all kinds, many of them with innovative approaches and some that surprised me with their originality in just how adept they were in creating intimacy with strangers. What I am always on the lookout for is an exciting design that fulfills on its promise of learning while connecting people in a shared and immersive experience. There are so many squandered opportunities!

Creating exceptional experiences when we gather doesn’t require elaborate and fussy planning. There’s nothing here that a little smart design can’t achieve when you take a human-centred approach. Think about the best gathering you’ve experienced and what you saw, heard and felt and what the leaders did. Then go out and design something fabulous.