Keep the energy advantage

Aviators can teach business leaders the importance of managing energy.

There is little quite as focusing for a pilot as a suddenly motionless, stalled propeller in an antique biplane without a starter motor, 2,000 feet above hundreds of spectators in the middle of an aerobatic display, without a parachute. I know. It’s happened to me.

The only option is to point the nose vertically downwards towards the only-too-rapidly approaching ground, which takes a little intestinal fortitude, allowing the height to turn to speed and so making the increasing airflow force the propeller to turn and restart the engine, hopefully before the daisies get too large.

Saving your skin in a situation like this is all about energy: converting the reserves of potential energy, in terms of your height, to kinetic energy – speed – and making sure that the energy balance is always held to make safe performance possible.

Aviators obsess about energy, and so should we business people in our organisations and business. Airline pilots manage energy to create efficient, safe, comfortable – even elegant – flight profiles. Aerobatic pilots convert energy to dynamic, precise and carefully choreographed performances, carving lines, curves and corner in the air in a poetry of style and balance.

Fighter pilots seek to hold the energy advantage against their opponents, calculating the moment to strike with implacable force. And all good pilots are conscious of their own and their crew’s energy states. They are trained to manage their own energy and, without blame, to refuse to fly if they are worn down by fatigue, emotional or medical stresses. 

Our organisations can be seen as webs and stores of energy. Money is energy, to be used well; targeted, leveraged and leanly. The people working for our organisations are a form of energy, especially in their levels of engagement.

That means you are a form of energy. How much of you was at work today? And was that the best part?

Pilots know that if they press too hard and manoeuvre too violently, there is a cost in lost energy, in drag induced and fuel used. So too with us. A fatigued and unfocused boss, a demoralised service worker or a tense and defensive manager create organisational drag and start a downward spiral that we have to reverse without delay before the value we create for our clients is undermined.

Energy and engagement, especially in higher mental and creative functions, can’t be forced. Even less so with passion and sparkle. You can’t command someone to be creative or be passionate or to care. These are voluntary acts. To generate them, we have to carefully cultivate, husband and inspire people – listening, noting, adjusting and elevating through astute and conscious management and modelling through our own example.

Spontaneous levitation doesn’t seem to exist. We have limited energy, whether that energy is stored in money and assets or in action, as engagement and operations. A positively energised organisation is an awesome thing to experience. It is moulded by our cultures, our systems and by the quality of our decision-making. Having a clear, systemic view of our organisations and of our business models helps us to make well prioritised, 80/20 decisions, focusing more on effectiveness than efficiencies.

 Pilots know that good energy managers focus on the three T’s: clear Targeting, astute Timing, and appropriate Tension between over- and under-alertness. And it’s the same for business leaders. With these in balance we are ready to fly – with force, focus and fun – to create resilient businesses that excite our clients.

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