Early in my career, I learned a vital leadership lesson about how to give your team energy. I was working with an education nonprofit that supported children who lived in poverty.
During the summer, we would frequently take these students bowling, hiking, or swimming. It was new to them, an inexpensive way to build mentoring relationships, and fun. Or at least, it could be fun if we allowed it to be.
As an adult, the eleventh time you take kids bowling doesn’t have the same novelty. On a steamy Monday morning in late July, a senior leader, Sue, must have seen the malaise creeping into us. She looked each of us in the eye and said, “Never forget that it’s their first time. Honor that experience for them.”
As a leader, you’ve shown up to a team meeting, started a new project, helped a team member over an obstacle. The novelty can wear off.
You’ve been there. Done that. Have the tee-shirt. The scars. Maybe a little cynicism.
How can you recapture that spark and energy?
Find Your Rock Star
Recently I heard comedian Conan O’Brien interview Bruce Springsteen. The Boss, who is known for the incredible energy he and the E-Street Band bring to every performance, talked about his approach to performance. “I want to be on the frontier—on the edges of my own psychological, emotional spiritual frontier. I want to be working there until the day I die.”
That, Springsteen says, is the difference between a professional and a careerist.
As you move forward and live life, he says, your life blossoms and so you can never actually sing the same song twice. You’re always a new and different person.
The interview called to mind the first and only time I saw the band Kansas perform live. They were opening for the band Yes. This was decades after both bands’ heyday.
But you wouldn’t have known it.
Kansas has two or three songs most rock fans know. They’ve probably performed that catalog thousands of times in venues ranging from huge stadiums in the 1970s to tents at state fairs.
When I saw them, it was in a smaller theater where I was standing in the back. And …
They. Brought. It.
To this day it’s one of the most energetic performances I’ve ever seen. The same few songs. “Dust in the Wind”—sang with the passion and perspective of people who have lived and seen life. “Carry on My Wayward Son”—filled with conviction, wisdom, and hope. “Point of Know Return”—carried the passion, challenge of adventure, and even an invitation to leadership.
They gave everything they had, and I’ll never forget it.
What must it be like performing those same few songs over and over across decades?
It was a challenge to me to show up for what matters most with all the energy and passion I can bring. To find what is new and fresh and meaningful.
Give Your Team Energy
Today, where can you give your team energy by showing up like it’s the first time?
Reconnect to your why. What’s the deepest meaning and purpose behind your work? Refresh yourself and your team in the “Why?” behind every “What?”
Focus on who you serve. You and your team exist to do something for someone. Who are they? How do you help them? Ask your clients, customers, or constituents to share a few words with your team about how the work they do matters.
Practice your craft. This is my takeaway from Bruce Springsteen’s conversation: You’re a different person. You are (hopefully) a better leader. The activity might be rote, routine, and even boring, but you’re not. You’re a different person. How does this new you bring their best self to the task and team?
Look through the eyes of a new team member. This was Sue’s challenge to us as adult mentors. It’s their first time going bowling. Find that magic. You’ve solved this problem fifty-five times, but your newest person is just learning and the magic of expanding their capacity is waiting for your leadership.
Life will always include some level of the mundane and routine. As a leader, you can give your team energy to meet these challenges.
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