While leadership books and theories are plentiful, rarely has a single framework had so much impact on me as Energy Leadership™, which was created by Bruce Schneider. Energy Leadership™ is “the process that develops a personally effective style of leadership that positively influences and changes not only yourself, but also those with whom you work and interact, as well as your organization as a whole.” I’ll get to how to apply Energy Leadership™ to nonprofits, but first the model and my personal context.
I recently learned about Energy Leadership™ when I started working with a fantastic Ann Arbor-based executive coach, Nan Reed Twiss, of Coach for Higher. After hearing other business owners and leaders talk about the benefits of using an executive coach, I sought out Nan’s support to help me figure out a growth plan for my consulting practice, Adaptive Alternatives LLC. I was also seeking support for setting personal and professional boundaries that could give me more energy rather than feeling constantly drained. As a foundation for coaching with Nan, I took an Energy Leadership™ Index assessment and then read Bruce Schneider’s book Energy Leadership.
Nan encouraged me to think about energy as how I “show up” when I’m operating at one of the seven energy levels. This model distinguishes between two types of energy, catabolic and anabolic:
- Catabolic energy is destructive, draining, contracting, suppressive, and resisting
- Anabolic energy is constructive, healing, inspiring, and growth-oriented
The chart below is daunting at first glance, but elegantly simple after it sinks in. Levels 1-2 are catabolic energy and levels 2-7 are anabolic energy. The model also outlines the thoughts, feelings and actions that make up each level.
In simple terms, here is are the two examples of dominating thoughts at each level (quoted from Energy Leadership, page 160)
FEELINGS . . .
- Level 1: “I hate myself.”
- Level 2: “I hate you.”
- Level 3: “I forgive you.”
- Level 4: “I feel for you.”
- Level 5: “I understand you.”
- Level 6: “I am you.”
- Level 7: “I am.”
WINNING AND LOSING . . .
- Level 1: “I lose.”
- Level 2: “You lose.”
- Level 3: “I win.”
- Level 4: “You win.”
- Level 5: “We both win.”
- Level 6: “Everyone always wins.”
- Level 7: “Winning and losing are illusions.”
There are advantages and disadvantages to each level. Level 1 is a place of retreat, avoidance, and flight. Level 2 is the “fight” in fight or flight. Most human interaction take place in Level 2 which is filled with competition and conflict. Level 3 is the first level of anabolic or positive energy. While Level 3 might look like cooperation, there is still a competitive quality of “I win, and hopefully you do too.” Level 4 is all about service or “You win.” Level 5 and 6 are the most interesting to me. In Level 5, “We both win” and in Level 6 “Everyone always wins.” While Level 7 can be reached periodically, it’s not something that is often sustained.
Now here is where we get to the nonprofit application and framing question:
What would the nonprofit and social sector look like if leaders, volunteers and organizations could shift from focusing on the scarcity in Levels 1 and 2 to looking for Level 5 and 6 solutions where “Everyone always wins”?
When we can start thinking in these Level 5 or 6 terms, everything can shift. Instead of getting consumed by the conflict at Level 2, there is a choice to operate from a higher level while still observing the dynamics at Level 2 as real and part of life. It’s really powerful to realize that we can choose to shift from catabolic energy to anabolic energy despite the challenges of current circumstances. Once we shift out of Levels 1 and 2, we gain anabolic energy and others will feel that energy too.
After reading Energy Leadership I was inspired to rewrite the mission of my consulting firm, Adaptive Alternatives LLC. My original mission statement was descriptive of what I did, but it wasn’t Level 5 or 6:
Adaptive Alternatives LLC is a consulting firm providing strategic planning and fundraising consulting services to nonprofits who are ready to adapt and thrive. Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we partner with local and national nonprofits and foundations at key stages of growth to address their biggest strategic, marketing, leadership and fundraising opportunities and challenges.
Here is a new mission statement written from a level 6 perspective.
Updated Mission (Why We Exist)
Adaptive Alternatives LLC envisions and creates opportunities with significant social and economic impact. We collaborate with mission-centered clients and partner organizations to turn scarcity into abundance. We align with the leaders, volunteers, organizations, and networks who are most ready to adapt and thrive beyond the bounds of current challenges. We believe that aligned efforts steeped in the intention that everyone involved should and will prosper can ultimately strengthen the ecosystems most likely to cultivate lasting social benefit for all.
Choosing to operate at higher levels of anabolic energy opens new opportunities that we just can’t see at catabolic Level 2 or even mildly anabolic Level 3.
As you can tell, I’m really excited about the possibilities of applying this framework to my own work with nonprofit organizations. I want to share Energy Leadership™ with others so that “Everyone always wins.”
If you want to learn more about how to apply Energy Leadership™ to your own life or organization, I would recommend getting a copy of the Energy Leadership book or reaching out to Nan Reed Twiss about assessment and coaching options. I’m also personally interested in further conversations about how you might see the seven levels of Energy Leadership™ playing out in your life or work. I always welcome dialogue and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to book a time to meet over the phone or in person here is the link to my online scheduling tool.