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You’re contagious. And you’re surrounded by people who are also contagious.
I’m not referring to a flu bug or a case of measles. I’m talking about how you view your environment, how you respond to personalities and issues, how you live your life.
Have you ever been around someone who brings a dark cloud into the room and rains on everyone’s day?
Have you ever known someone who always manages to ask the right questions, always finds a way to lift and encourage, always finds a way to help people focus and collaborate to serve the common cause with purpose and even joy?
Then you understand contagion.
The good news is that you can control the contagion. You can deliberately choose what you “catch” and what you pass along to others.
That’s the theme of Anese Cavanaugh’s Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization That Thrives.
Anese’s approach to self-management and interpersonal relations can make a big difference in how you choose to influence and be influenced.
Rodger Dean Duncan: Your approach to organizational culture is rooted in what you call Intentional Energetic Presence, or IEP. In a nutshell, what are some of the behaviors one might see in a leader who practices IEP?
Anese Cavanaugh: They’re present. They’re thoughtful about the energy they bring into the room. They take ownership for the tone they’re setting through their intentionality, their energy, and their presence. They stay connected to their intention of the impact they want to have. They’re conscious that they’re contagious and that leadership starts with them, so if the energy is low or people are complaining, they’ll find ways to get curious, name what’s happening in the room, help translate complaints into requests, model the level of presence they want to see, and ultimately shift the tone to something more productive.
You’ll see them hold time integrity: showing up on time, finishing on time, and honoring time. You’ll see them following through on what they say they’ll do. You’ll see them being honest and naming things others are not willing (or are too scared) to say in service of the impact they’re working to create. You’ll see them turning their complaints into productive requests, and helping others do the same.
You’ll see them being conscious of their language and the impact it has—for example, using words like “richly scheduled” or “on purpose” instead of “busy” or “overwhelmed;” “will” or “intend” instead of “try” or “hope.” They’ll question words like “should,” “have to,” “need to,” and “can’t,” instead reframing them with “want to,” “get to,” “choose not to,” or “won’t.” Words like “worry” become “I’m aware of” or “this is something I want to address.” Language has an energetic and emotional impact. The more present and intentional we are, the more we can feel it and adjust it to support us.
You’ll see IEP leaders taking care of themselves and being responsible for their energy—both how much energy they personally have and how they feel, as well as their energetic impact on others and the energy they bring into a room. They take responsibility for making sure they practice good self-care (in whatever way that means for them), hold boundaries, and say real “yes’s” and “no’s” in service of the work, their team, and their well-being.
You’ll also see them being conscious and intentional about the impact they want to have on others and the organization, what kind of “contagious” they want to be, how they spend their time and energy, and how they lead their team to do the same.
Duncan: Is IEP a framework or a set of behaviors? Or both? Or more?
Cavanaugh: It’s both. The primary framework is a methodology, The IEP Method® which has three core components—(1) reboot and command your presence in the moment, (2) build a strong energetic field and foundation, and (3) create intentional impact.
Each part of the methodology has frameworks, tools, and behaviors that support us in continuing to up-level our game in each area. The ultimate outcome of the entire methodology, including all frameworks and behaviors, is to have a stronger, cleaner, and more positively contagious, Intentional Energetic Presence® which allows us to have more impact and feel great doing so. (Not burned out, busy, and overwhelmed.)
Duncan: In layman’s terms how do you discuss organizational culture? What is it? What affects it? What impact does it have on performance?
Cavanaugh: I believe organizational culture is how people feel when they work. It’s the “intangible stuff” that impacts how we feel, work together, communicate, and regard each other. I hold “culture” as the energy of the container people create together that enables each to show up well, fully, authentically, on purpose, and as the best of themselves. Or not. Everything I’m talking about in this conversation affects culture.
Duncan: How does the notion of being “contagious” apply to what a leader might aspire to do and to be?
Cavanaugh: We’re all contagious. The question is how. Positively? Negatively?
Energetically, people catch our “vibe”—and we catch theirs. Think of a meeting where the majority of people feel great, they’re buzzing, they’re happy to be there. In that same meeting, you have one or two who are not. They’re bringing low/negative energy to the room. Most often, the room will “catch” that vibe and match it. This happens all the time—in meetings, in 1:1 conversations, on an airplane. Everywhere. When we’re aware of it, we can protect ourselves from “catching it,” and even shift it. It takes only one person (and that’s you if you’re the one noticing it) to shift the vibe. How? By staying present, holding your state and not getting hooked, and using your IEP to help things go well.
In terms of behaviors, we’re also contagious. Complaining is contagious, as is gossip, “busy,” overwhelm, entitlement, judgment, and general negativity. Someone starts it, another matches it and before you know it, it’s an epidemic. Fortunately, the opposite is true as well. Accountability is contagious, as is requesting and suggesting and looking to be a part of the solution, as is being present, positive, curious, gracious, calm, and being in service of a cause.
As leaders, we have a choice to set the tone and decide what we’ll get hooked into and what we’ll model. We choose which route—positive/negative, helpful/not helpful, expansive/contracting. With practice, our choices become habits.
Duncan: What role does “energy” play in people’s engagement in and commitment to their work?
Cavanaugh: It impacts everything. It makes things go better or worse. And feel inspiring or like drudgery. If the energy feels heavy, negative, confusing, judgmental, contracted, and not safe, people will not do their best work. Period. You won’t get the best from them. Even more, they’ll take that energy home with them and out to the rest of their lives, spreading it (unless they know how to manage and clear it before they go). Not to mention lost creativity, missing work, getting sick, doing the minimum required, and the general impact on collaboration.
To me this is everything. If we get the energy right (i.e., present, positive, clear, intentional, in service of), or at least are conscious of it and doing our best to show up well, everything else gets easier, people feel better, creativity gets freer, people feel safer, relationships build, people show up.
“Showing up” is a core element of your approach to organizational culture. Please explain what that means.
Cavanaugh: I look at showing up in three ways: How do I show up for myself? How do I show up for others? How do I show up for what I’m in service of? (My mission, my vision, my “why.”)
I have to show up well for myself first, via self-care, having a positive relationship with myself (it’s my most important relationship), being in integrity with myself, honoring my agreements, and being accountable for my life and the results I create (good and “bad”). The more I show up for myself, the better I can show up for others and create my intended impact. For me to be and do the most for my organization, mission, and the people I love and lead, I have to show up for me. It’s similar to putting my oxygen mask on first on an airplane.
More specific actions of “showing up” in the moment might look like raising my hand when I’m scared, doing the right thing even though it’s hard, asking for a seat at the table, telling the truth, doing what I say I’ll do, going the extra mile, being brave, being kind to myself, showing vulnerability, or doing my best at something—even if I fail … and then showing up, again.
Duncan: Which cultural elements do the most to reinforce what you call purpose and personal nourishment?
Cavanaugh: Having a clear purpose, vision, and values in the organization helps nourish and support the human spirit, tap the WHY factor (which reminds us of what we’re doing together and that we’re in this together), and optimize the collective collaborative energy of a team.
This shared purpose is what attracts people to work with you and stay inspired. The shared vision gives people the larger intention of where you’re all going so they have an anchor, they’re not distracted by—or lost in—the energy of ambiguity, and you’re all rowing in the same direction, building momentum, and focusing on the right things. Shared values speak to what’s most important to us, how we’ll show up together, and what we stand for.
We all have these things personally, even if we’re not conscious of them. Organizations have them, too. The more conscious of these things we are, and the more we honor them, the more nourished we can be individually and as an organization. They work together.
Duncan: You underscore the idea that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” So what kind of relationship influences do you see as most helpful to a leader who wants to maintain positive impact?
Cavanaugh: If you hang out with people who complain, blame, and gossip all the time, are negative, don’t take care of themselves, and just don’t care about purpose or impact—you’re likely to “catch” that “bug.” Just as if you hang out with people who are purpose-focused, conscious, accountable, gracious with other humans, care about impact, and are positive. You’ll catch that one.
I advise people to have an intentional “Posse.” This is a group of people who you like being with, who see you, believe in you, and who want the best for you. These are often people who are playing at the level of game you want to be playing, or higher. You all contribute to each other in your unique ways. The relationships are positive, enriching, challenging, caring, and inspire growth and good.
Duncan: Burnout can certainly result from failure to care for one’s self. But you say burnout more often results from a combination of other things. What are they?
Cavanaugh: In my experience, burnout is definitely impacted by our self-care It’s also significantly impacted by losing connection with what I call the Four Ps.Presence—being here in the moment (versus worrying about the past or future), present to what’s happening in my life/relationships/organization, present to gratitude, and being present to my needs (self-care, what a real “yes” and “no” is for me—and my criteria for it, and other things that will support me in being my best).
Purpose is being clear about why I do the work I do and my intentions.
People is being connected to the human beings I’m with, the humans I’m being in service of and intending to impact, surrounding myself with a good “posse,” and remembering I’m not alone and I can ask for help.
And Pain & Pleasure involve allowing myself full permission for authentic emotion, the painful and the pleasurable, the good and the bad, and letting myself have all of it (versus pushing it down, avoiding it, ignoring it).
There are more Ps, but I find if we can open up these four, the other P’s (and self-care) are easier to manage.
Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP and a regular contributor to Forbes and Fast Company magazines. He is widely known for his expertise in the strategic management of change, for organizations and for individuals. In 1972 he founded Duncan Worldwide to train and develop leaders. His clients have included some of the top companies in the world, as well as cabinet officers in two White House administrations.