The Heliotropic Effect in Leadership and Coaching

Recently I attended a workshop at Positive 12 led by Kim Cameron Professor of Management at University of Michigan. In his presentation he referred to the ‘Heliotropic Effect’. You might remember this from science classes – perhaps not. It is the tendency of living things to move towards sources of light and positive energy. (Click the link later in this newsletter to listen to an interview with Professor Cameron).

New developments in social network analysis are now revealing the ‘positive energisers’ in organisations and conversely the ‘energy drainers’ - who is attracted to who and who avoids who. This research is beginning to indicate just what impact these positive energisers can have on organisation culture and performance. Quite a bit it seems.

Those positive energisers in general:

  • are stronger performers,
  • bring out better performance in those around them
  • get their ideas acted upon more often
  • attract good people to work with them

So what is it that makes interactions with these people so energising and so impactful in the teams and organisations for which they work? Researchers Cross and Parker (2004) distilled it down to 5 dimensions. Positive energisers brought just the right amount of these dimensions to their interactions with others. Hitting the mid-point of these rather than the extremes is the challenge for those who want to inspire energy:

  • A Compelling Goal: a focus on what could be rather than on what is or has been
  • A Meaningful Contribution: a focus that allows others to feel they are heard, can make a contribution and can influence the interaction
  • A Sense of Engagement: a focus on being fully present both psychologically and physically
  • The Perception of Progress: a focus on movement, progress ,of ‘getting somewhere’
  • The Belief that the Idea Can Succeed: a focus that generates a sense that the topic of the interaction is worthwhile and can be attained

In reflecting on this research it was interesting to note how all of these dimensions typify good coaching interactions. These dimensions can be part of shorter on the run coaching conversations or more formal and extended coaching sessions. When we are building the coaching skills of leaders across our workplaces we are building the extent to which they can be positive energisers of others. And we know now that instead of just making our workplaces pleasant places to be these practices, when they are honed and consistently present, can make a difference to individual, team and organisational performance.

None of this is of course particularly new but this old saying is worth remembering… “Just because it’s common sense doesn’t mean it’s common practice!”

So perhaps this month you might give some intentional focus to just one of these dimensions…

  • What would it look like if I was to demonstrate more of one of these dimensions in in my interactions with others this month?
  • What would be one small step I could take to move towards this in the next week or 10 days?

Have a positively energising month!

About the author

John Campbell BADipEd, MAppSc (Comm Mgt), MAppSc (Psych Coaching) FAIM

John Campbell is Managing Director of Growth Coaching International Pty Ltd, an Australian based consulting organisation that provides coaching and coaching services to school leaders and teachers across Australia and now in the UK, the Middle East and the Asia/Pacific region.

John has been a high school teacher, a curriculum consultant and over the last decade has led leadership and coaching skill development workshops for thousands of educators across Australia and internationally. In addition to his teaching degrees he holds a masters degree in the psychology of coaching from the University of Sydney.

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Cross.R.& Parker, A. (2004). The Hidden Power of Social Networks: How Work Really Gets Done in Organisations. Boston: HBR Press.

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