Most everyone wants to be a leader.  Over the course of your career, you’re groomed and goaded to “get to the top.” Because when you get there, you get to do the real stuff. You get to direct, not do.  To make all the best decisions that the yutzes before you missed. To inspire. To be the envy of your peers. And when you get to the top, it might indeed be all those things. But it will also be many other things – annoying, frustrating, stressful, tiring, overwhelming…the list goes on. And while I can’t help you overcome all those things in one blog post, I can help you with one: HOW DO YOU GET ENERGY as a leader?

It can be draining as a leader – to always have to make the tough calls, to inspire others to actionDoing the real innovating is fun when you yourself aren’t 100% sure that the strategy will work. But as an innovation leader, when you get close to the work you actually get a surge of energy.  Let me give you a couple of specific examples:

  1. I had dinner with a well-known company (a brand name you would know well) and its innovation leaders. Each leader had a list of 3-5 fortune 100 companies they’d worked for before. We spent 30 minutes at least talking about one topic and reminiscing. The topic:  moments when they created something meaningful and unique and made it real.

    To paraphrase them… “Doing real innovation…really doing it…is just the most fun I’ve ever had. When we do cool things, people are just jazzed. Not to think about them. Not to report on them. But to just get in there and make something.” When they all looked over the highlights of the most fun they’d had in their careers, it was those moments when they got to play in the lab, try something right then, do something live with real customers….those were the rock and roll moments that they loved.  Getting close to the work gave them the most energy of anything else they did.

  2. I did a television show called Backyard Inventors with Doug Hall.  In so many ways it was a complete distraction – 5 days in a row of filming, travel to and fro, early mornings, late nights…all while we had a real business to run. The list of cons goes on…

    But my biggest silver lining every time: working with the inventors right there in the thick of things to create ideas, test them, build the business case for them, build them, rebuild them, blow them up and start again, write concepts, invent names, invent more names, learn, test, apply, and study.  We didn’t have time to really teach the inventors anything. We just sort of either guided them or put them on our backs and carried them over the finish line. And despite the cameras and the make-up and the interviews and the TV-ness…at the middle of all that, we just got to get our hands dirty.

    So every morning of filming, getting up at 6 am after going to bed at midnight the night before – I grumbled and complained. But then 8 am hit and we’d meet the inventor and we were off…and suddenly it’s 8 pm and we’ve been going non-stop all day and it feels like 5 minutes have passed.  The doing of it – the innovating – is the most fun and gives me more energy than ever.

So if you need an energy boost and a way to kick-start your innovation leadership – get close to the work.

Do a project for anything – your church, your family vacation.  

Book an hour with anyone to help them solve a problem.  

Think of a problem you need to solve and grab 3 people today and mind map to generate some options.

Not only will you win credibility points with your staff and peers…and a few new war stories for yourself…you’ll get a boost of energy from getting right in there and doing the work.