Energy defines a great leader. Energy is the one word that I have seen that differentiates great leaders from average leaders. Great leaders not only have positive energy, but they also contagiously spread this positive energy to others. What exactly is energy? Well, the answer is quite simple: everything! Everything you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and even think is made up of vibrations…vibrating, living energy.

Anabolic vs. Catabolic Energy

Your energy (aka, your attitude) dictates how you show up in the world, and your energy is dictated by your perceptions and beliefs of the world, others and yourself. Depending on how you perceive a given situation you are going to experience a mix of two kinds of energy: Catabolic and Anabolic energy, and each plays a significant role in our personal effectiveness.

Anabolic energy is constructive, building, healing energy. This type of energy releases anabolic hormones, such as testosterone, into the body. “Anabolic energy is driven by solution-seeking, acknowledging different perspectives, rationalizing differences, identifying a purpose in all situations, being of service to others, and not getting attached to one view or one way of doing things.”   At work, it shows up as enjoyment of the process – even when it’s challenging. At home, it shows up when you are spending treasured time with someone you love, fully present and fully engaged. In sports, it shows up when you are performing at your best, seemingly without thinking. It’s the kind of energy you experience when you are in a flow state: everything feels effortless and you’re operating at your highest potential.

Catabolic energy is draining, destructive energy. This type of energy releases catabolic chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which actually eat away at our very cells. Catabolic energy is most easily seen in our stress response – bringing out responses such as fight or flight, argue/defend, avoid, resist, or give in.  It’s the kind of energy that’s present when you feel that you “have to” finish this project on time or when you “should” have that difficult conversation with your COO. Catabolic energy is the grit-your-teeth, get-it-out-the-way, push through it kind of energy that helps you get the job done. It can also be characterized by an apathetic, “low energy” kind of feel that has you avoiding unpleasant work or people.

At any given moment, you are experiencing a combination of anabolic and catabolic energy.

The model below provides an overall summary of the Seven Levels of Energy. It also includes the core thoughts, feelings, and behavior associated with each level.

The Seven Levels of Energy

Energy Level Core Thought Core Emotion Core Action/Result
1 Victim Apathy Lethargy
2 Conflict Anger Defiance
3 Responsibility Forgiveness Cooperation
4 Concern Compassion Service
5 Reconciliation Peace Acceptance
6 Synthesis Joy Wisdom
7 Non-judgement Absolute Passion Creation

Source: Bruce D. Schneider, 2006

The Seven Levels of Energy provides a common language for individuals to use in order to make the shift from catabolic to anabolic thinking. Ideal leaders are anabolic leaders, meaning they create and automatically attract success. But sadly, Bruce D. Schneider, author and founder of iPEC (the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching), says nearly 85% of leaders are catabolic, destroying the energy and momentum of the people around them and the company as a whole, often without knowing they’re doing so. It is no wonder that engagement surveys indicate that very few workers are engaged in their jobs.

If you see anger, guilt, anxiety and low morale, you can bet you have catabolic leadership in your organization. If you notice a calm presence among employees, especially during stressful situations, they likely have an anabolic leader. Anabolic leaders take nothing personally, think objectively and do not judge people or events as good or bad. The focus is on opportunity and solution as opposed to the problem. Their time orientation to thinking is in the present moment.

What about you? Do you act out in anger during stress? Do you feel that there is nothing you can do? Do you stand at the water cooler and say things like “what are you going to do, he/she will never change.” OR do you ask yourself, “what are the possibilities here?”


The concept of choice is critically important when making the shift from catabolic to anabolic. While we know our temperament or motivating drives and behaviors do not change, our response to stress is, in fact, a choice we make; therefore, our energy or attitude can change.

One of the things you can do to make the shift is to journal stressful events and the subsequent thoughts and feelings you had on a weekly basis. By journaling your thoughts, feelings, and actions around these events, you can then begin to reprogram your thoughts in order to make the shift. This can be done alone, but it’s much easier with an outside party or coach.

As a coach, my job is to “coach at the core,” to help clients raise their awareness and empower them to make better decisions that will help their organizations improve communication, relationships, and ultimately performance and profitability. As awareness goes up, more choices become available which result in faster, more confident, more motivating, win-win, relationship building decision-making. Make no mistake, this is hard work for the individual and can take a very long time with expected setbacks along the way.

coaching engagement provides a confidential, non-judgmental structured environment for the individual to work in. Once a foundation is built around anabolic energy, specific goals such as building leadership skills for the next level, designing reorganization, building a succession plan, or any change management endeavor can be approached with this new lens and the individual and organization have a much higher probability for success.