Leaders face significant draws on their energy throughout their day. They need to inspire and engage with their teams, colleagues and other stakeholders. They must take decisions, track goals, articulate their vision and keep abreast of projects (Lanaj, Johnson, & Lee, 2016a). But 96% of senior leaders are said to feel some degree of burnout from their job (Kwoh, 2013) – and only 27% are engaged (Gallup, 2017).
What can be done to help re-energize them?
In their recent study, Klodiana Lanaj, Trevor Foulk and Amire Erez (2019) reflect that leaders need high energy levels to give the motivation, support and coaching that others need – and to function as leaders. Depleting these energy levels, they argue, may result in erratic behaviour and a lower quality of support being offered. The team wanted to look at how leaders could maintain high energy levels and deliver support to their employees.
The results show that those leaders who take time out in the morning to reflect on their own successes, value and achievements are more engaged later during the day and are less depleted of energy. Greater engagement improves the leaders’ view of their own impact and influence on others.
65 leaders on executive MBA courses volunteered to take part in the study over three work weeks. The participants were emailed daily surveys, three times a day on the 10 consecutive work days of weeks two and three. Participants were allocated daily, and randomly, to the control and experimental conditions. Over the 10 days, all participants had 5 days in the control group and 5 days in the experimental group.
Those in the experimental group completed a positive self-reflection intervention. This involved the participants recalling and focusing on, for example, things about themselves, their skills or their achievements that make them a good leader.
Both groups completed measures of energy depletion, positive affect and self-esteem in the morning. In the afternoon, all participants assessed their levels of work engagement and in the evening completed measures regarding their ‘clout’ and ‘prosocial impact’.
The results from this study showed that:
- Those who practised the self-reflection in the morning, were less depleted of energy and more engaged with work during the day.
- Heightened work engagement improved perceived ‘prosocial impact’ and ‘clout’ – and these are two markers of leaders’ influence at work.
What this means for organizations
The research is valuable. It studies real leaders working in real-world work settings and how they perceive their impact on their environment and team. That said, as the author acknowledges, the study relies on self-report, with no attempt to ask co-workers about actual impact. Perhaps a 360-degree feedback tool could have been of use here. The research also highlights the need for leaders to take timeout and reflect on their own value and achievements to help re-energize and best support their own people.
The challenge for all organizations is how can we best develop and support our managers and leaders to be the best they can be, to maintain their energy, focus and value - and to drive their teams forward?
What this means for you as a leader
In Lanaj et al's study, the results suggest that taking a little time in the morning to focus on your strengths and accomplishments helps retain energy and positivity over the coming day - and might help you become a better leader.
Why not try bringing to mind and writing down three positive things about yourself such as qualities you possess as a leader. According the the research, this could make a difference to your day.
For more information about how Aon’s Assessment Solutions can work with you to grow your leaders, visit our website
Gallup. (2017). The state of the American workplace. Retrieved from
Kwoh, L. (2013, May 7). When the CEO burns out. The Wall Street
Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127
Lanaj, K., Johnson, R. E., & Lee, S. M. (2016a). Benefits of transformational
behaviors for leaders: A daily investigation of leader behaviors
and need fulfilment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101, 237–251.
Lanaj, K., Foulk, T. A., & Erez, A. (2019). Energizing leaders via self-reflection: A within-person field experiment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(1), 1-18.
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