Updated: May 3
If you’re like the savvy leaders I work with, you’re committed to leading inclusively. You’ve got high self-awareness and you’ve already participated in many trainings around how to collaborate effectively, how to listen, maybe even how to create psychological safety in your team.
But just because you know about these things, doesn’t mean you’re effective at holding the space for them in real time. I’ve found this one thing can get in the way - and not only can it leave you feeling frustrated in any given situation and stressed in general - it can also inhibit your ability to show up as fully present, to connect to others and to lead from your heart.
And that one thing is: an unharmonized energy.
Consider this example:
A client of mine was frustrated after two of her direct reports had given their notice unexpectedly. The leader felt this was particularly annoying as they had recently gone through annual performance review meetings where they had the perfect opportunity to bring forward their concerns.
I invited the leader to consider some of the reasons why the individuals may not have brought up their intentions to leave during their one-on-one meetings. She then reflected:
“Well, I give the team ongoing feedback so nothing in the reviews should have come as any surprise to anyone. If they had something to say, they should have said it. I mean, that’s the right thing to do. Leaving me surprised and unprepared doesn’t serve anyone.”
We further unpacked the situation by focusing on her behavior in those meetings as opposed to theirs and replaying the conversations back.
She reflected that the meetings started a few minutes behind schedule and that when she’d arrived, she was rushed. After little to no check in, she cut right to the chase, setting up the purpose of the meeting by using the structure provided by the company. Looking back, she could see how it could have landed as impersonal and a ‘tick the box’ exercise.
As a direct report in that situation, would it have felt like the moment to share honest feedback about how they were feeling and what they needed?
The leader reflected: “No.”
We brainstormed - what would have been the way in that meeting to set the tone so that a direct report would feel comfortable enough to express vulnerability?
“To slow down, to share a piece of myself, to know that I care, to see that I’m listening, that I’m patient, that I’d be empathetic and curious and not judgmental and penalizing in some way.”
Of course there are many things contributing to why someone may or may not feel comfortable to open up and it stems way beyond the virtual constructs of any one meeting.
But still, it felt like the moment for me to address the elephant in the room: her energy.
Her energy has an intense “go, go, go” feeling to it. It’s all: “let’s cut to the chase”,” move on” and “power through.” While no doubt this energy helps her to get things done, it also carries an air of impatience, so even if the words, “Does anyone have anything they’d like to add?” come out of her mouth in a meeting, it doesn’t necessarily invite an open discussion in the way she genuinely intends.
And she’s not alone. Many of the leaders I work with carry a similar energy, being achievement and action-oriented, logical, vocal. It certainly makes sense that these are traits that get rewarded at work, it’s what drives results.
But wait, because as the leader described above, she also feels frustrated. A lot. And she’d just had two members leave her team unexpectedly - and there is a real cost to that - to herself, to the team and to their ability to reach the ambitious targets in front of them. So what to do?
What is harmonized energy?
Harmonized energy contains components of both doing and being, action and presence. There is a sense of urgency and an air of patience, a display of confidence and humility as well as grit and compassion. Harmonized energy is a blend of these dualities in and across different situations. It’s the energy you carry with you, and also how your energy weaves as you move through your day.
Harmonizing energy is central to the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang and has been used for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese medicine looks at how to reharmonize yin and yang energies as a central element to good health.
Yin is an energy of being: it’s calm, patient, rest-filled, and receptive. Yin energy is introspective, intuitive, creative, there is flow, and connection.
Situations where yin energy would be beneficial:
connecting with others
reflection / reviews / introspections
Yang is the energy of doing: it’s assertive, fast-paced, and bold. Yang energy is logical, energetic, visible, loud, and there is a power through “no pain no gain” element to it.
Situations where yang energy would be beneficial:
finishing your to-do list
goal setting / forecasting
an important presentation or pitch
a job interview
Yin is considered feminine energy, while yang is masculine energy. To be clear though, feminine and masculine energy is not to be confused with gender or any kind of gender identity prescriptions.
It’s about finding the harmony within yourself of these two energies - with both of them needed in your life, and different situations that may require different energies depending on your objective. Neither one is better or worse, they are both essential.
Leading inclusively requires the presence of yin energy. Because leading inclusively is about being able to hold space for people to feel like they belong because of who they are. Remember that people need to show up and feel seen, heard and valued.
A lot of leaders I’ve worked with have an imbalance where they over-rely on yang energy without enough yin energy. So, even if leaders consciously care about being inclusive and have the tools in their toolkit to hold space for others, their yang energy can be a blocker to it.
Signs your energy is overly yang:
You may feel stressed, anxious, rushed. You may be quick to defensiveness, frustration and impatience.
You may find it hard to let go of things and have trouble sleeping sometimes.
How to harmonize your energy
1. Increase awareness
Being able to notice your energy, and whether or not it is serving you in any given situation is helpful and will allow you to best do what’s next.
I asked the leader from the example above to think back about that day she was doing the annual review meetings. What was she doing beforehand and how was she feeling at the time?
“I did an intensive peloton workout and had a protein shake and a coffee before diving into the back-to-back review meetings.”
Bingo. “What kind of energy does that kind of activity bring out in you?” I asked her to reflect.
"Intensity, speed, productivity, action, a ‘getting things done’ kind of feeling."
Exactly. And that was precisely the energy she carried into her afternoon meetings.
“What kind of activity could you have done before those meetings that would have better set you up with the energy we brainstormed above that would have been more effective for your direct reports to share honestly with you - empathy, listening, curiosity, patience, etc?”
“Hmmm,” she thought, “A run? A lunch date with a friend?”
The leader had a hard time thinking of what else she could have done.
“Things that would require you to slow down, like a walk in nature, slow yoga, meditation, painting, dancing… “, I suggested.
The idea of dancing during her lunch break puta smile on her face. ‘Yes definitely I did not consider doing something like that!”
2. Do activities that will set up your energy
Try out some Yin evoking activities
Call on your yin energy by doing activities that will bring it forward.
Some of these may feel foreign (and therefore uncomfortable) - but I invite you to try!
Do something creative and focus on the output instead of the outcome. If we get fixated on picking up a hobby and having some kind of ROI on it, be it a painting to hang on the wall or a beautiful vase after taking a pottery class, we’re not fully in the yin. Creating for the sake of creating will bring out the yin energy and let you step out of doing things ‘right’ and into doing things in the moment that feel right.
Spend time in nature. Get out for an hour and breathe in the beautiful air. Open your senses and be receptive to take it all in.
Practice something slow moving like yin yoga, tai chi, or qi gong.
Sing and dance. Don’t just listen to music. Get up and feel it. Let it in.
Meditate in a way that nurtures stillness, presence, and heightened self-awareness. All Yin.
Here are some Yang evoking activities
Cardio activities like running, high intensity interval training.
Competitive activities like tennis, badminton, etc.
Anything adventurous or thrill seeking
3. Be flexible in how you structure your free time with activities that will harmonize and call on complementary energy
In my own life I’ve loosened my routines to be more flexible around what I’ve got going on and how I’m feeling. To my younger self (who would get out there and put those kilometers in rain or shine, exhausted or not…), my current behavior could look like I’ve gone soft or have a lack of discipline.
But to a more attuned, wise version of myself – it’s living in sync!
'Yes' - to getting out there and running. And ‘yes’ to being competitive and pushing yourself to the limit (yang energy) when you need that energy.
But ‘No’ to doing it when you’re already over-utilizing that energy in your everyday life, and haven’t tapped into the power of yin.
The leader I’ve been sharing about here left the conversation with some homework on these three steps above:
have more awareness of her energy;
try on some yin-inducing activities; and
introduce flexibility into her schedule to complement her energy appropriately.
She’s said it feels like a big blind spot had been uncovered - and it’s helping her to be more effective as a leader by showing her people that she truly cares about them. Personally, she feels less frustrated and more relaxed, making it possible to enjoy each day more in a way she didn’t even realize she was missing out on.
Now it's your turn!
I invite you to take on the three steps above.
If you're working with me currently - next time we meet, let's talk about what you've tried, and what you've noticed.
If you're not currently working with me - and you'd like to get clarity on your energy and how you're showing up or a fresh perspective on some of the challenges you're having around leading inclusively - book a deep dive coaching session.
You may also consider spending just a few minutes to complete my assessment on how you're thriving as yourself - one of the four quadrants is energy and you'll get a sense of how you're doing right now along with some ideas of what to do about it.