Last week I talked about one of the key variables to impact is your ability to have cut-through. In a context that is full of uncertainty and change, the key was to be able to cut through the noise and have impact. I appreciate this may have meaning to me, but what I know is that meaning is open to interpretation. So I’d like to describe how I think of cut-through.
What is cut-through?
I was a band nerd. I played the flute and went to band camp. I was pretty serious, so spent a lot of time in the music building at my school which gave me the opportunity to ‘experience’ the range of capabilities at the school. So I describe positive cut-through a bit like the the oboe solo in Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’. No matter how many times we had to repeat and re-rehearse, that solo truly cut through the noise and evoked all our senses. Everything and everyone stood still. On the other hand, cut-through can be agitating….I also recall having to endure the sound of the year 2 violins practicing whilst waiting for my own class. Sounded like a herd of cats having their tails stepped on.
Just like musicianship is about the energy and passion we bring when we play in addition to our technical capability, cut-through in a work context occurs when our behaviour reflects the productive energy we bring to our work and the relationships we have.
The key ingredient for ‘the right’ cut-through
You’ve probably heard of the ‘how full is your cup’ metaphor? How full it is simply represents how full of energy you are. This directly influences your ability to be positive and have the impact you want to make. If your cup is full, you have lots of energy, you have a lot to give, which can lead to massive impact. If your cup is empty, you’re spent. You’ve got nothing to give, so you restrict your ability for impact.
Practical application: The cup metaphor is useful as an indicator of how much impact you can possibly give. If your cup is full, and you’ve got a day full of high stakes meetings, or sessions where you need to motivate your team into action, then great. You have the mental and physical energy available to nail those meetings and have the impact you desire those sessions. However, if that’s your agenda for the day and your cup is low or empty, then you’re in trouble. You’ll be running on empty, trying to make something from nothing. You’ll find yourself reactive and projecting the wrong sort of energy into the situation. Just as Dr Stephen Covey refers to the ‘Emotional Bank Account’ in the context of relationships, think of this as an ‘Energy Bank Account’ in the context of impact.
How do I get the energy I need to crush my goals at work?
Are you in introvert or extrovert? Before you ask what does that have to do with it, know that many of us misuse those terms. It’s not about being timid or loud. These terms refer to where we get our energy from. An introvert gets their energy from being alone and being around people drains energy from them. Extroverts are exactly the opposite: they refuel by being around people and being alone is like a death sentence, sapping the life out of them.
Practical application: If you're about to go into a difficult conversation with a member of your team, or you've got a big meeting with the Board, you’re going to need to make some withdrawals from your energy bank account. You will need to do activities that bring you energy, i.e. make deposits. An awareness of your natural energy source type is crucial.
Are you a bucket filler?
In a client session a couple of weeks ago, the children’s book ‘Have you filled a bucket today?’ was discussed. What I loved about the conversation that proceeded was the recognition that we can make deposits into our energy bank account by helping others. That means we can make deposits into our energy bank account by helping others. This provided a perfect segue into the topic of resilience and in particular how you maintain an ‘opportunities-focused' mindset when dealing with clients who have a ‘consequences-first’ mindset.
In other words, what do you do when there is a mismatch of energy?
Awareness of 'this stuff' is valuable, but it means you need to work harder
Practical application #1: Which is why you must take 100% responsibility for your impact. Because if you really want to increase your impact at work, and get what you need when you need it, then you need to do the work. When you are faced with a mismatch of energy, you need to work to shift the energy imbalance so that productive work can ensue.
I have been working with senior finance leaders who have just executed significant market transactions - on both sides of the transaction. The similarities included lots of late nights, market sensitive information (i.e. keeping secrets), and high-stakes ‘robust’ conversations. Reflecting on those recent experiences, they shared how a critical success factor (i.e. why they didn't 'break') was that they made the time to go for a walk, take the day off, or work from home. They consciously did what was needed to sustain or regenerate their energy to allow them to continue to perform at their peak.
Practical application #2: When I stand up to facilitate, or speak to, a group of naturally introverted people (and considering I work primarily with finance folks, there are a lot!), as an extrovert I need to work hard on my energy. First and foremost to make sure I don't overwhelm and disengage them, but also to keep my own energy levels up in the absence of overt feedback and non-verbal signs. It’s hard, but when we get to the end of the session and I receive the feedback I know that it was all worth it.
The effort will be worth it - notice your effort to impact ratio change
If you focus on your energy, and the interplay of your energy with another’s, you will find yourself front loading your work. We all know that front loading in most cases, reduces pain and stress and increases your change of success when time is crunched. Being able to plan your energy flows also shifts control firmly back in your favour…and we all like a bit of control!!
What impact do you want your teams to have today?
What would a 25% increase in energy do to the quality of their output?