Anese Cavanaugh | Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization that Thrives (Episode 461)

Anese Cavanaugh | Contagious Culture (Episode 461)

Anese Cavanaugh | Contagious Culture (Episode 461)

Anese Cavanaugh (@anesecavanaugh) knows what it takes to make “busy” beautiful. She helps people and companies unlock leadership potential, create meaningful impact, and enjoy themselves while doing it.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Is the way you’re “showing up” helping you create the impact you want?
  • Contrary to popular belief, it’s not merely the leaders who set a company’s culture — it’s every single person in that company.
  • What is the IEP Method?
  • Can you stand to have a Presence Reboot?
  • Learn the five-step formula for creating intentional impact.
  • And so much more…


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Anese Cavanaugh is the creator of the IEP Method (Intentional Energetic Presence) and an advisor and thinking partner to leaders and organizations primarily in the design, service, and innovation spaces. In her new book, Contagious Culture (out today!), she teaches readers how to show up, set the tone, and intentionally create an organization that thrives.

In this episode of The Art of Charm, we talk to Anese about why every single person in a company sets the culture, how you cannot escape yourself, how to set up your environment for success, how to be “intentional” before entering a room, and how you can reboot your presence (if that’s something you need to do).

More About This Show

“I would say 90 percent of the phone calls I get from people and from companies,” says Anese Cavanaugh, author of Contagious Culture, “they’re coming because they want to shift their culture; they want to have more leadership impact; they want to create better results. Maybe their team is in what I call triage — the team’s not getting along — or maybe they’re just looking to optimize and they want to build in more of a culture of leadership than leadership skills.”

Anese finds that, in most of these cases, it’s not the skills that are lacking, but the way that everyone’s showing up to do the job. In fact, even if your team members have the best skills in the world, the energy they bring to the table — whether it comes from a negative place like exhaustion, blame, or entitlement or it’s positive and intentionally in service to the project — makes all the difference.

Who Sets Your Culture’s Tone?

So who’s responsible for setting the tone of a company’s culture that determines how this elusive energy will be channeled — for better or for worse? Theories have varied, but Anese believes most current authorities on the topic have it backwards.

“Last I heard, there’s over 50,000 books on culture and leadership,” says Anese. “The common belief is that the organization sets the culture — the leadership team, the owners of the company, that they’re going to set the culture. And ultimately what I found is that it’s every single person in the culture in the way that they come to the table — that they’re setting the culture…it doesn’t matter if they’re the CEO or the janitor.”

In Contagious Culture, Anese favors taking an inside-out approach to changing how a company’s culture is set. By first examining and correcting one’s own habits that generate negative energy and presence , someone who seeks to enact such a change is setting the groundwork for that culture to become positively contagious.

“The common denominator is us,” says Anese. “We take ourselves everywhere we go.”

It’s basically a riff on the old “be the change that you wish to see in the world” saying, but it comes with guidelines. Unfortunately, Anese concedes, some people shun these guidelines strictly on the basis of what they perceive as new-agey, feel-good semantics over tangible, actionable substance.

Intentional Energetic Presence (IEP)

“You put intentional energetic presence [the basis for Anese’s IEP Method] together and people automatically want to dismiss it as the soft stuff,” says Anese. “[But] we’re having an impact all the time. Our energy and our presence is like food coloring in water — you can’t take it out…if you want to have influence and if you want to connect with other people and you want to feel good while doing it, you need to pay attention to how you’re showing up in the equation.”

The Four Quadrants of IEP

By analyzing the four quadrants of IEP, we begin to understand how the energy we bring with us to any interaction directly affects the energy of others. Let’s take a look at how this applies to a business setting.

Physical/Environmental Energy: Are you setting yourself and your team up for success with the environment you’re providing? If you’re expecting your team to be highly functioning, then you probably don’t want to start it off by bringing a giant buffet of donuts or pasta to the table. You should make sure the lighting isn’t as dim as a cave or as bright as a supernova. You want to establish an environment that supports positive energy and teamwork.

Mental/Emotional Energy: As Anese says, “Underneath every complaint is simply an uncommunicated request. And underneath that request is a dream of some kind.” So if you acknowledge complaints and request constructive feedback — what someone complaining would like, instead — you’ve already released a ton of negative energy and pointed people toward a more productive course of action. On a personal level, maintaining this quadrant is dependent on you giving yourself permission for emotional authenticity.

Vibrational Energy: This is how you make people feel by the way that you’re showing up. Is the energy you’re bringing into the room with you a product of your best self? Can your mere presence be considered a contribution by helping to elevate — rather than detract from — the overall vibration of the room? Are you promoting the goals of your team’s project?

Relational Energy: As Anese says, “Every single relationship in your life has an energy about it. Being aware of what this energy is and being able to either nurture it or shift it — depending on the circumstances and what’s needed — is key to creating really strong IEP.”

These four quadrants work together to support each other in a dynamic (non-linear) way that is also very contagious. Master them all for the grand prize: intentional energetic presence.

While honest self-examination can be a difficult and painful process, Anese describes it as liberating — because you’re identifying areas of your life that are ripe for improvement and empowering yourself to make changes for the better. In making these changes, you’re positively having an intentional impact on the energetic presence you bring along with you everywhere.

“I’m no longer a victim to all the people around me who are making my life so hard,” says Anese. “I actually have a choice; I actually have a way that I can show up differently and do something about it.”

We can’t escape who we are, so it makes sense to own the space we inhabit. But even if we have a healthy grasp of this space, interacting with others who aren’t as healthy in their space can affect us negatively — but only if we allow it.

“I have my space and you have your space,” says Anese. “If I lose presence and if I get really, overly involved in what’s happening for you or you’re stressing me out — or maybe you’re just being chaotic right now — and if I forget my space, it’s going to be really easy for me to get lost in what’s happening for you and to let your energy kind of glom into my space, which can be really overwhelming. That’s where stress occurs for most people. We lose our space…most often because of external forces.”

Energy Vampires Are Real

If you errantly believe that this is all a little woo-woo for your liking, consider some real-life examples of times when you’ve witnessed competing energies vying for the attention and overall mood of a room.

“A boss or a colleague or whoever — a team member — walks into a room and all of a sudden, you feel that room get careful,” says Anese. “What we’re talking about is that person’s energy. We’re talking about their presence. We’re talking about the tone that they’re setting. And there’s a rule in this work, which is that the lowest vibration will win. I don’t know if you guys have ever been in a meeting where you’ve got eight people and six of them are doing great — you guys are all jamming along — and there’s just two people that are sitting on one side of the room that just seem completely devoted to taking the energy in that room…”

Even though they’re in the minority, left unchecked, these two people can really bring the rest of the room down to their level. And while this meeting may have started out on a high note, it’s the low note upon leaving that people will remember.

“They leave the meeting and then they go and they talk about how horrible it was,” says Anese, “and then they gossip about it and then they take it home with them. And then they’ve lost that time…besides the fact that it’s exhausting and unproductive, it’s also expensive. So that lowest vibration will win unless other people in that room are good at holding their space and inviting those [counterproductive] people to kind of step into a higher vibration.”

Shifting and Controlling a Room’s Energy

How do you deal with this situation in a way that, as wise sages before us have said, accentuates the positive and eliminates the negative? By putting your best foot forward first and leading by example.

Are you showing up with a positive IEP? “What’s the energy I’m bringing into the room?” is how Anese begins. “If my energy’s clean? Great. I’m going to hold that state and I’m going to continue to engage the team as if the vibration of the room — if the energy of the room — is perfectly fine.”

Ideally, the low vibration people will catch on and join in. Problem solved. If not? The next step is to check in with the team in a more direct way. Just because someone’s not an obvious “yes man” (or woman) doesn’t mean they’re trying to sabotage the team’s work. Maybe they’ve spotted some drawbacks but don’t know how to introduce these worries in a constructive way — so it’s having an unintentional effect on the room’s energy level. This is where you, as a leader, can try to root out the problem before it takes over.

Anese says: “I’ll probably come from a state of curiosity where I say, ‘Hey, guys. I’m noticing that we seem to be jamming along with a lot of us in this room, but George and Sally, what’s happening for you guys? It’s feeling like…what’s happening? How are you guys doing?'”

Nine times out of 10, this is a shifter in itself. It acknowledges that legitimate problems may exist and gives the naysayers an opportunity to voice their concerns — which Anese says can be “gold” to your project’s goals.

“If I can create space as a team leader for that kind of permission — for us to talk about [potential obstructions to the mission] — that can be really productive as well,” says Anese. “There might be wisdom if we can allow for a little bit of curiosity.”

If no such wisdom seems to be forthcoming and the low-energy people seem to just be complaining for the sake of complaining, Anese’s next step is to ask what they would like instead. To put things in perspective, we all have complaints from time to time. We may not even realize their root. But by being reminded that we have power in alleviating these complaints with solutions, it turns a “somebody ought to fix it” situation into “this is how I would fix it.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm to learn how to be aware of and mold your own intentional impact, how to reboot your presence in order to project your best self in any situation, and lots more!


Resources from this episode:

Contagious Culture by Anese Cavanaugh
The Art of Charm bootcamps

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-The Art of Charm Toolbox
-Best of The Art of Charm Podcast

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