What Being a Solar CEO Taught Me About Workplace Energy
In my time as the CEO of a solar company, I’ve learned a lot about energy. I know how to manage home electricity usage, how to help people reduce their power bills and establish energy independence. I’ve internalized a whole set of technical concepts and jargon. I know conduits, alternating currents, direct currents, PV, kilowatt hours, and transduction like the back of my hand. I could probably teach and certify electricians if I wanted.
However, the most important lessons I’ve learned are about a different kind of energy: human energy in the workplace.
Am I a shaman or spiritual guru? Not by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do value performance and have spent years testing and tweaking my lifestyle to find the conditions that best set the stage for success and happiness in my own life.
What follows are the five main lessons I’ve learned about human energy – lessons I’ve battle-tested in the course of raising four small children, maintaining a happy marriage, and leading a business to year-over-year growth in existing and new markets:
1. Live Inside Out, Not Outside In
If money is your primary focus, nobody will buy in to your purpose enough to give you their hard-earned dollars.
The inmost purpose of your company – no matter the industry in which it operates – should not be a monetary objective. Even if you manage a large hedge fund on Wall Street, you are not trying to make money for people. Rather, you are trying to give people the feeling that having more money will give them.
The customer, in general, is more important than the outcome of the business objective. If you tend to your customer, your prospect, or yourself as someone who needs to consume something from the outside world, you will be treating a person as a mere means to an end. Who wants to be a means instead of an end?
Executives who are passionate about what they do – not the outcomes of their labor per se – tend to be happier and more successful. If your organization’s mission is to improve the lives of others with your product, your company will outperform competitors who are hellbent on merely selling more.
Brands that sell products and follow the “live inside out” mantra make better brand extensions and adapt more quickly to changing markets. The leaders of these companies see beyond the products they sell to the benefits the products give people.
Take Richard Branson, Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs: Do you think any of these three men accomplished what they did because they just wanted to make money? They live their purposes inside out, and everything else falls into place. For each man, the purpose of his brand sets the positive energy of the company in motion and awakens potential customers to each brand’s ability to improve lives.
Abiding by a purpose will also simplify your moral code, making it clear what you should do when difficult decisions must be made. This will help you sidestep decision fatigue.
Purpose comes from within. Money comes from out there. Live inside out by placing your purpose front and center. The money will follow after.
2. Understand Mind and Body as One
Rene Descartes, the French philosopher who famously coined the expression, “I think, therefore I am,” set in motion the very discourse that would culminate in our contemporary understanding of the interrelatedness between mind and body.
I am reminded of a story from The Secret: When researchers place EEG electrodes on the heads of world-class sprinters and ask the sprinters to envision themselves setting world records, the EEGs record neurons related to the athletes’ arms and legs firing at the same rate as they would if the athletes were actually running, not merely imagining it.
The mind is the most powerful instrument at your disposal when it comes to cultivating the right energy. Executives can take the power of visualization and apply it to any objective they see fit, whether it’s increasing sales or smoothing out the kinks in a budget. If executives harness their mental energy correctly and ruminate on positive outcomes, they can find solutions more easily.
But one cannot expect to be on top of their mental game if their body’s needs are neglected. We all need exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy diets to perform at our peaks.
On the flip side, if all you do is polish your physique and adjust your diet, your mind won’t operate at its optimum capacity. Balance is key in leveraging the conjunctive power of the mind and body.
3. Bad Vibes Are Very, Very Real, and They Can’t Be Swept Under the Rug
I regret to inform you your GQ subscription is only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to feeling and looking powerful. Any and all advice that tells you to alter your appearance, stance, posture, or attire in order to avoid negative thoughts or feelings is ultimately hollow.
You power poses or power suits won’t determine whether you communicate a message of power and influence to your employees. However, the way you feel about yourself at your core will.
This is why a sense of self-efficacy is so important, and why the adage “Fake it ’til you make it” does nothing more than create a noticeable charade masking your insecurities – of which your office compadres will be keenly aware.
While power poses and nice business casual attire may make you feel more confident and capable, the far more important variable is how you feel about yourself. Changing the way you feel about yourself requires more work than buying a suit, but it isn’t as complicated as many self-help writers would have us believe. Tally your victories, focus on what you have to be grateful for, and ruminate on the good fortune the future will bring.
To get rid of bad vibes and capitalize on your positive energy, you need to change your feelings. The easiest way to change your feelings is to prioritize the positive things in your life as most deserving of your attention. Once you make this subtle shift in awareness, your positive energy and sense of gratitude will grow, and you will attract more positive energy and success in your life.
4. Cap Your Workweek at 50 Hours Max
The “take it easy” mantra annoys me just as much as it annoys any other executive, so rest assured that’s not what this section is about. Just as bad as that platitude, however, is working your mind into an ineffective frenzy.
Instead, we should aim for the middle ground between taking it easy and overworking ourselves, which is best illustrated by the diffuse mode of thinking that occurs when our minds solve problems “in the background” while we concentrate on something else.
Barbara Oakley describes the “diffuse mode” and “focused mode” of thinking in her landmark book, A Mind for Numbers. According to Oakley, the diffuse mode of thought occurs when we are relaxing or letting our minds wander. If you have ever arrived at the solution to a problem while in the shower or upon waking up, you likely have the diffuse mode of thought to thank.
You need to give your mind enough time to work in focused mode without sacrificing its capacity to operate in the diffuse mode. Typically speaking, a 50-hour workweek is the right way to strike this balance.
Workplace productivity and efficiency expert Brian Tracy tells us top executives work 59 hours per week. Tracy argues developing a workaholic mentality is a positive thing that leads to better results in the workplace.
The thing Tracy forgets to point out is that you should not continuously exercise your workaholic mentality. Rather, your workaholic mentality should be developed and exercised continually. “Continually” means intermittently and as needed, while “continuously” means without interruption or aberration.
If you have several months where rote, simple tasks need to be hammered out, then go ahead and work a few 60-hour weeks. However, if the problems you need to solve require higher-order thinking – a blend of creativity and mathematical reasoning – then you need to get rest in order to activate your diffuse thinking.
5. Caring Energy: The Best Marketing and Sales Strategy
Does your sales team have a caring energy or a pushy energy? Are your salespeople desperate to sell more, or are they compelled by a caring urgency to improve people’s lives?
It’s very difficult to teach someone how to care. The best strategy to make sure your customers feel the right energy coming from your team is to hire people who are emotionally invested in your cause – people who care about your cause beyond the scope of their own monetary gain.
You may be thinking, “Okay – easier said than done. How do I get a team of twenty-somethings in my call center to care?”
There are many books you can read to answer that question. My top three go-tos for motivating teams and establishing the right energy are:
Customers and prospects can feel whether salespeople are trying to sell them or advise them. Perhaps ironically, it is the latter of these two methods that increases sales. In reference to point No. 3 above, a “you’re-trying-to-sell-me vibe” is a very real thing, and it deters customers from buying products.
Our best sales rep is passionate about selling solar to improve the environment, give homeowners energy independence, and save prospects from utility companies’ electrical rate hikes. He isn’t in it for the money. He’s in it for the purpose (see point No. 1 above). He also has solar on his own home. His belief in the product and how it can truly help other people is the biggest determinant of his success.
Bringing All the Right Energy Together
All of the points I’ve made above can be sorted into two categories:
- Having the right mindset
- Tuning the environment in which you operate for success
Remember, the environment you create is about so much more than your to-do list. It’s about the vibes you give off to others, and the ones you apply to yourself as well. As long as you apply the above principles, you’ll be harnessing the power of human energy in a way that will benefit you tremendously.
Scott Cramer is CEO of Go Solar Group, a solar quote provider and installer based in Utah and Reno, Nevada.