leadership with Melissa MacGowan

Energy and how it impacts on leadership.

Welcome to the first of our leadership series for 2021 and happy new year. This time I am speaking to Melissa Mcgowan about your own personal energy and how managing our own energy level every day will have a profound effect on your leadership skills and impact.

You have been brave enough to leave an international HRD role and move into your own business this year which is centered around partnering with busy leaders to expand energy and impact. Can you tell me more about that?

Some call It brave others have used other words but choosing to step away allowed me to synthesize my biggest business and personal learnings over a 20-year career and reorient my focus and purpose.

Can you summarise those learnings and how they came about?

  1. The need to have a self-focused foundational strategy for our leadership and our life. A key part of that strategy is to prioritise the renewal and expansion of your energy to fuel performance and impact in a sustainable way. So what is energy? It is the capacity to do work; the property of a system that diminishes when the system does work on any other system, by an amount equal to the work so done. Your energy is your main asset and it affects everything including our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities. Your energy influences your openness, your perspective and importantly your creativity and ability to focus.

  2. Once your energetic foundation is stable you can navigate the inevitable bumps in leadership and life better. You can create capacity to successfully make the biggest “gear change of a career” which is developing people and teams to deliver results through others. In my view and experience, being able to deliver a high performing team is what separates high potential leaders from others.

  3. The “spilling over” effect of developing a strong self-focused strategy including expansion of energy and stamina combined with developing a high-performing team, enables a leader to take growth leadership to the next level. Whilst I am a huge champion of inclusion, I have learned in business that not all activity and outcomes are equal. Many are aware of 80:20 and the Pareto Principle. To keep it simple here, what I mean is that we can learn to place bets as leaders backed up by data and strategy to give certain businesses, accounts, products, processes and even people disproportionate focus leading to disproportionate outcomes. You could think of it in terms of the “critical few”, choice management or as Derek Sivers says “If it is not a hell yes, it is probably a no”. Cal Newport talks about “Deep Work” which also requires choices and tradeoffs and it is not about time, it is about focus.

So how do you build the energy to deliver this impactful leadership?

By being aware of the importance of your greatest asset and ‘tuning in’ to how you spend this precious asset.

About four years ago I was experiencing some health issues and like many leaders was experiencing stress on a frequent basis. In fact I had normalized stress. My body finally afforded me a wakeup call that I now look back on with appreciation.

I developed a new way of working and being for myself starting with a template in OneNote that guided my energy and time planning process for each week to make sure I was attending to my energy and achieving the important things in my work and outside work. It is a practice over years, and I am still at it. I developed a model and program called ‘Becoming Your Chief Energy Officer’ and now I teach others. My model is based on four key elements:

  1. Choose: where and how you spend energy and time
  2. Energy: is your critical foundation and priority
  3. Outcomes: outcomes and impact are meaningful
  4. Momentum: brings ease and alignment

How do you build that foundation – physically mentally and emotionally?

My undergraduate was in Applied Science and Physical Education before moving to HR, so I have a passion and long-standing commitment to movement and making shifts physically, mentally and emotionally. I have always seen the similarities between athletic pursuits and leadership in the corporate world. Improvement and movement frequently! We used to call it ‘Executive Stamina’ but I prefer energy and would refer people to the ‘Performance Pyramid’ as a starting point to consider where to start. I love the work of Jim Loehr which has been carried out of many years and recommends rituals are developed in a specific sequence to intentionally support high-performance:

  • Physical Capacity – movement and sleep or example
  • Emotional Capacity – reflection, planning, connecting
  • Mental Capacity – breaks, meditation
  • Spiritual / Purpose – get clear on your ‘reason for being’

I encourage clients to start small and be realistic, choosing one meaningful habit (or micro habit) to commit to on a regular basis using the model above as a guide on where to start.

If nothing else, a habit of asking yourself how you really feel and ideally making a few notes in a simple box: Physical, mental, emotionally, and spiritually. See what you notice. It is easy to lose.

What are some examples of things you can do?

It could be a mental break in the day- mentally feeling overloaded, confused, and overwhelmed so rather than pushing though have a 10-minute break or even better, 15 minutes away from all activity.

Think about repurposing one thing you do and doing it more mindfully- connect with nature, don't do work calls, tune in to how you are feeling and potentially how others are feeling too.

Or it could be the incorporation of a morning ritual exercise – meditation or journaling or even meaningful connection with the good friend.

You’re talking about small changes which can have a huge impact. How do you sustain yourself?

There is a lot of research to suggest micro habits can cumulatively change behaviors for the long term. I gave myself a 30 day challenge in December to focus on energy before action. What I learned was that increased awareness led me to make better choices. There were two ways I focussed:

  1. Catch myself in moments of rushing, struggling with a deadline or problem or simply when I might be typing away and not breathing and, in that moment, stop and do something as small as taking three deep breaths to reset my energy or take a short walk.
  2. The other thing I did was schedule something that I knew would help me sustain or gain energy each day such as a coffee with a friend, playing some music, writing or moving my body.

What impact has 2020 had on you?

Being at home with teenagers during a pandemic when you are attempting to hold boundaries about devices is very energetically draining! I learned that despite everything, I am wired to choose discomfort and growth. Starting a podcast and my own business mid 2020 has been very uncomfortable at times and has led to the most growth and satisfaction I have experienced in years. Growth in an inside game.

How have you seen leaders change this year and what kind of leadership do we need for 2021?

My key word for 2021 is “choose”. Choose you and choose where you spend your energy and time.
Here are some of the leadership traits I feel are very important this year:

  • Compassion – for yourself firstly and then others. You can easily get caught in the stress tide of others. Compassion to self is protecting your energy and focusing your impact.
  • Curiosity – we know it feeds innovation and helps us grow. Leaders need to stay curious and uncomfortable in the unknowing so they leverage all that great talent around them. Businesses have seen a light shone on culture last year. If we want people to really contribute, we have to stay curious to be inclusive.
  • Accountability - to yourself as a leader and a better understanding of how to take your leadership and growth to the next level through tapping into your greatest asset.

Melissa MacGowan:

Over the past 15 years, I have held numerous senior leadership roles in diverse and complex multinational companies.

Melissa is the founder of ‘Go To Grow’ where she partners with leaders to prioritise their growth, expanding energy and impact. Her programs reflect her passion for leaders learning to thrive in their leadership and lives sustainably. She is always growing and working on her energy so she can keep up with her four children too!


about the author

Jeannette Lang - General Manager VIC/TAS/SA

Jeannette has over 20 years experience as a senior HR leader. With a strong network (nationally and internationally) of HR practitioners she is focussed on the placement of senior and executive HR professionals.

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