HomeTalentLeadership DevelopmentWhy leadership has less to do with title, and everything to do with energy

Why leadership has less to do with title, and everything to do with energy

  • 6 Min Read

Managing energy as a leader is a form of power. HRD thought leader, author and coach, Simon Alexander Ong, explains how to manage and utilise our energy to be a better leader with greater influence.

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In 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis, Google conducted a study called Project Oxygen with the vision of creating better leaders throughout their organisation.

One of the catalysts behind their decision to undertake such a significant project was the fact that the group with the biggest issue with management was their engineers. As Laszlo Bock, the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, explained, “Engineers generally think managers are at best a necessary evil, but mainly they get in the way, create bureaucracy and screw things up.”

Led by Google’s People Innovation Lab, the Project Oxygen team spent a year data-mining performance appraisals, employee surveys and nominations for top manager awards, along with other sources to evaluate the key differences between the highest and lowest rated managers. More than 10,000 observations about managers across 100+ variables were gathered, which was then followed up with direct manager interviews, leading to over 400 pages of written notes.

The results of this internal study were shared across the organisation and would go on to become the source of many training programs for those involved in leadership positions at Google.


What does a good leader look like?


According to the study, successful managers were discovered to possess these eight qualities, ranked in order to importance:


  1. They are good coaches.

  2. They empower their team and don’t micro-manage.

  3. They express interest in their team members’ success and personal wellbeing.

  4.  They are productive and results oriented.

  5.  They are good communicators, and they listen to the team.

  6.  They help employees with career development.

  7.  They have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

  8.  They have key technical skills that help them advise the team.


It would appear from this that the most important activity to becoming a better leader is becoming a good coach – to be able to empower and energise your teams towards success.

The least important, on the other hand, is technical skills. Just because you are a talented developer does not automatically make you a great leader; just because you are a profitable salesperson does not automatically make you a great leader; just because you are switched on as an analyst does not automatically make you a great leader.

These findings led Google to change two things in particular:

  1. First, they redesigned their feedback surveys to measure managers against these eight qualities instead of simply measuring how much output a manager achieved.
  2. Second, they launched new training programs centred around these eight qualities.

Together, these actions would contribute to developing managers into coaches who could energise the teams that they were responsible for.


leadership energy


Great leaders + great coaches = creative energy


When you have leaders in place that are great coaches, you are able to unleash the creative energy of your organisation. It is the direct result of teams that feel energised, that feel trusted and that feel their actions contribute to a compelling vision that is greater than themselves alone.

The eight qualities shared above are also an illustration of just how important the human element of leadership is.

When Eric Schmidt (former CEO of Google) held staff meetings at Google, it was reported that he would begin each one by asking people to share an informal report of what they got up to over the weekend. While it created the space for impromptu conversations, it was actually his way of getting his team to know each other better as humans. For when staff feel trusted, understood and appreciated, a business has a greater chance to truly flourish.


  • Leadership is about transformation. When you transform people, you transform an organisation.

  • Leadership is about appreciation. When people feel appreciated, people show up with greater energy.

  • Leadership is about energy. When you energise people, you create leaders at every level of an organisation regardless of title.


During a visit to India in 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a hall full of students:


“The energy you create around you is going to be the most important attribute you bring to others. I do believe in the long run EQ does trump IQ. For without the ability to be a source of energy for others, very little can be accomplished.” 


Leadership and influence have less to do with your title and more to do with your ability to energize others around you. Because when you feel energized, you are more likely to be engaged with the work that you do and to express yourself more creatively.


leadership energy


You cannot be an effective leader of others unless you are powerfully leading yourself first. What action will you therefore commit to taking today that will contribute to you showing up each day as an energizer and a more energizing environment for the staff that you are responsible for? Here are some ideas:


  • Let your staff know that they matter, this gives them the energy to express their potential.

  • Create a safe space for staff to experiment with innovative ideas and master new skills, this gives them the energy to develop their potential.

  • Share a vision with your staff that is compelling and magnetic in nature, this gives them something to channel that potential into.


When it comes to the productivity of you and your staff, energy really is everything. Without it, you can’t get much done – you lack focus and discipline. And this is because your energy determines your state and therefore how you do what you do.

We are energetic beings having a human experience, and energy is that key that unlocks opportunities and the fuel that powers us to extraordinary heights. It is a form of power: what you give energy to, you give life to. Understand how to manage this precious asset of yours and it will not only transform the way you and live and work, but it will uplift the energy of all those around you.  


Simon Alexander Ong is a personal development entrepreneur, coach and public speaker. His debut book, Energize, will be published in April 2022 by Penguin. Order now at www.getenergizebook.com


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