energy in work and life

A Cautionary Tale

Back in the day, there was a business friend who worked in the tech/web/marketing space with me. He was a highly-visible business man in our community of friends. Everyone knew this man.

And as far as this man knew, his public reputation was great. He had plenty of business. He travelled and spoke at conferences. Upgraded his company several times to spiffy new offices. He was a success, even on a national scale. Let me highlight this: Everyone knew this man. In fact, his business was in the area of making sure you knew who he was, or that you knew who his clients were and what business segment they dominated in the market place.

I met this man and we did some business together through a client of mine. We really hit it off. Certainly none of the rumors were true about this guy. I would assess that for myself. And generally, every time we met, we’d both leave with more energy and more excitement than when we arrived. As partners we were generators. We fueled each other’s excitement and idea generation.

Then, a year or so after the client work, I met this guy for lunch. It was one of our typical, “Hey, let’s grab lunch, I’ve got a few things to run by you,” meetings.

And he opened his mouth and proceeded to trash one of his local competitors. And I don’t mean in a friendly competitive way. Snarky comments, questioning if they even knew what they were doing, etc.

I listened. I didn’t respond.

One of the things I wanted to tell him, as part of this meeting, was…

My wife had just started working for this competitor.

I didn’t tell him that just yet. I let him rant. I was a bit shocked at his animosity towards a local business run by nice guys. I’d known the competitor and his company much longer than I’d known my “friend.”

I ate my lunch listening and sharing on a more reserved level.


Reflecting on my use and need for energy today, I wondered to myself, what kinds of activities do I participate in that GENERATE energy? And don’t we (as workers, creatives, and business people) want to generate more energy and have more energy available for our families and our work?

Maybe this man generated some energy from his heated diatribe on his competitor’s business. It’s easy to see how anger can generate a lot of passion and activity. Wether that activity is beneficial depends on how you channel it in your life and business.


I met with this guy about a week later. And here’s the basic statement I said to him.

“My wife just started working for Mr. R last week. I was going to tell you but when you started trash talking his business, I wanted to hear what you really thought of him.”

I could see a bit of the color draining from his face.

“I’m not mad,” I said. “But I think you should watch what you say about another person’s business. And also watch what kind of energy you are generating when you attack someone’s personal reputation right along with “your version” of their professional assessment.”


“And finally, I have to tell you, it makes me a bit more reluctant to share with you on a deep level. I have to wonder, what information are you sharing about me when you’re meeting with others in our business.”


We’ve maintained a friendship since then, but my desire to collaborate and brainstorm with this man wained. The Generative power of our relationship had moved into the Conservation mode. I didn’t want to spend energy with this person, because the energy coming back was either very low, or negatively charged.

And then some additional insights continued to come up in the course of doing business together for several years.

1. This guy always asked for leads. He liked to ask, “Well, how can we pitch them…”

2. After a bit of caution with me, he returned to his slanderous self.

3. He NEVER asked me to participate in one of his “business pitches” where I might derive some benefit from my supportive efforts.

4. He never fully learned what his reputation was. Something that “every body knew,” was that he was not to be trusted with any information. The entire community still knows that he trash talks everybody.


His name came up a day ago and I was inclined to call him up and say hi. But I didn’t. This person and I joked about the Wylie Coyote nature of this man, and how neither of us had ever been introduced to an opportunity by this person. And I began to notice that he was being talked about as a USER.

This guy is known as a USER. And he’s someone you can’t trust. (See The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable to learn about the core need for TRUST in a relationship.)

What sort of relationships do you seek out and what people do you routinely avoid? Are you a Generator, a Collector, or a User?

I think the first two are great. Generator = entrepreneur, connector, add-value player. Collector = conserves energy spent on unproductive or destructive activities, looks for easier, frictionless ways to get things done.

The third type of energy relationship is the User = self-interested, does not give energy back, wants more opportunities for themselves, but never provides opportunities for you.

I haven’t seen this guy in several years. He’s still around and still as large as life. And unfortunately still just as oblivious to his blind side.

“How do you use or provide energy to others?”

Keep It Social Out There!(tm)

John McElhenney

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