Your Leadership Power is Contagious

leadership superpower

Leadership is Contagious

You are contagious. You set the tone to create an environment that empowers or imprisons. How you interact with others, how you show up, how you operate all impact others around you.

Anese Cavanaugh’s book Contagious Culture helped leaders create healthy corporate culture. Now her latest work, Contagious You shows individuals how to guide and serve others in a compelling way.

I’m a fan of Anese and her work and loved Contagious Culture. In fact, when I first received the advanced copy of this book, I wondered….could she do it again? The answer? Definitely. Contagious You is exceptional. It’s a book that will help you maximize your impact and influence regardless of your current position.

I couldn’t wait to talk with her about her latest work.



Tap Into Your Superpower

You start your book saying, “Your contagiousness is a superpower.” What are some ways to “own it”?

Presence and awareness are the first step – when we’re present, we become more aware. The minute we have awareness of our impact, our contagiousness, and what’s happening, we have power to “own it,” choose, and direct it. This is one of our greatest superpowers as it allows us to shift the course of conversations, to be more intentional about how we want to show up, what we want to “spread,” and the impact we want to have. It emboldens us to be response-able to things that are happening (no matter how challenging they may be in the moment), and it enables us to shift the tone and the conversation as needed to help things go differently.

In the book I share the Contagion Factor Formula™ which is:

action /

[emotions x intentions / presence x self-care] =

your contagion factor

Your Contagion Factor is how contagious you are, how far it will ripple, how positively or negatively so, and how likely you’ll then be to create the result you want. You can apply this equation to anything: a sales conversation, a feedback session, a discussion with your spouse, or even your relationship with workouts and your health. You can also work your way backwards: not getting the result you wish, which component can you love up?

One way to “own” our contagiousness is to be aware that this equation is at play in the first place, and then to shift any of the parts of this equation to a more helpful and useful level to create the experience we wish. The great thing is that if we shift any component in the equation, we impact the rest.

Not all components have to be “perfect,” or “high,” or “forced” – they do have to be genuine. (Presence, NOT perfection!) Every little shift matters. We can own every part of this equation and amplify our superpower of contagiousness for good.



How to Encourage Contagious Energy

How do leaders best encourage contagious energy?

Model it. Be it. One hundred percent this is the first place to start. Be authentically and usefully contagious, so much so that people around you can’t help but be affected by it and catch it themselves. I find that no matter how much a leader tries to inspire positive contagious energy or any kind of behavior or way of being, if the leader isn’t “being” that way and modeling it themselves, they won’t be successful in inspiring it in those around them. It’s incongruent. So the best bet is to work your own IEP (Intentional Energetic Presence®), take care of yourself, and show up in a way that is genuine, solid, helpful, and positively contagious (in your own congruent way) – this is the best way to encourage and create more of the same.

Of course there are other behaviors and actions we can do in order to encourage positively contagious energy around us, especially with our teams and those we love and lead. I believe some of the most powerful ways are: 1) engaging people in their WHY and their WHO (why they do the work they do and who it impacts), 2) connecting people with their intentions (what they want their impact to be, how they want to affect others, the project, etc., what they desire for their legacy and long-term impact), 3) acknowledging people for who they are, the impact they have, their hearts, their courage, their vulnerability, their brilliance, their value on the team/work, their risk taking (especially if it “failed” or created an unintended result) – whatever is true for you. A true acknowledgement, seeing someone as the amazing human they are and honoring it, brings people alive, has them feel seen, and is… contagious. (And then they’re likely to pay it forward even more.)

Bottom line, to encourage contagious energy (the good kind), model the contagiousness you wish to see, show up real (authentically), and practice behaviors and actions that invite people to step up, have them feel seen, and encourage the human spirit.


How to Increase Your Self-Awareness

Awareness is power. How do leaders become more self-aware?

Awareness is power – I’m so grateful for this. Without awareness we often struggle, get stuck, live and lead confused; with awareness we have choice – we can choose how to shift if we wish. I find that 70% of this work is in awareness the other 30% is in what we do with it.

To increase our self-awareness I always come back to the simplicity of presence, breath, and paying attention. The moment I’m present and with my breath is the moment I have more space for awareness and to pay attention to my impact, how I  feel, how people are responding to me, if I have their attention, the energy of the dynamics, and what I may or may not be doing to create the result I want (or don’t want). When we really pay attention, and are willing to tell ourselves the truth of how we’re showing up may or may not be serving us, we have major power. From here we can decide how to shift, what to name, what support we need, whatever next step will help us become more effective, happy, or useful.

That’s from the “inside-out” game of awareness. There’s also the “outside-in” game which is highly useful as well which comes in the form of feedback from those around us (responsible, quality, productive feedback can be gold here), our results (which are another form of feedback), assessments (which I’ve included several of in the book to help assess energy and impact), and coaching and in-the-moment performance refinement.

Another way to increase our self-awareness is to ask ourselves the “Magic 5 Questions” from the IEP work: 1) Am I having the impact I want to have? 2) Do I feel the way I want to feel? 3) Do people follow me because they want to or have to? 4) What kind of contagious am I and therefore what kind of culture am I personally creating? And, 5) Am I living in a way that is in alignment with my core values and who I want to be?

These questions are gold because any of them can take us deeper into our awareness of how we’re showing up, where we’re crushing it beautifully, and what shifts we might want to make so that we can answer these questions in a way that feels great and true.


7 P’s of Burnout

I personally got a lot out of your discussion on burnout and self-care. How do we create our own burnout and what steps can we take to get back to a healthy place?

In Contagious Culture I talked about the 7 Ps of burnout from a professional and organizational standpoint. Since then, and as I was writing Contagious You, I found that there are 7 deeper Ps of personal burnout (which, of course, impact and are at play in the professional Ps as well).

I find that we create our own burnout in multiple ways; chronic “yes”-ing (when we really mean no), negative self-talk, cycling worry, complaining, procrastinating, not telling the truth, not taking time for self-care, moving from meeting to meeting and moment to moment without pause, overdoing social media (and the comparison, fatigue, and drama that can come with it), not being our own best friend and advocate – these are just some. There are hundreds of ways.contagious you

In Contagious You I talk about the 7P’s of burnout which are 1) lack of presence and the pause, 2) disconnection from purpose, 3) disconnection from people, 4) not allowing authentic emotion and space for pain and pleasure (and play!), 5) a lack of partnership with ourselves, 6) a lack of personal power, and 7) trying to please everyone.

The beauty of these many Ps is that if you address the first four, numbers five through seven begin to get handled. Here are four areas to use as steppingstones to bring us back to a healthier place.

Get present and pause. We have to build space for ourselves to pause—if even for a minute here and there throughout our day—or in that moment we’re feeling stress or reactive, it’s highly useful to get present and pause. Of course there are bigger pauses I wish for all of us as well: days off, “me-time,” intentional white space days, vacation, etc., AND, we can build “mini vacations” into even our littlest moments if we’re intentional with our breath, our presence, and creating the pause.

Connect with your purpose. There are people who work many many hours a week, reply to all their email, rock their outcomes, connect well, and vroom vroom – people don’t know how they do it! They seem like they should be exhausted, yet they’re on fire, zooming along, super happy and energized. And then there are those who work 9-5, go to yoga every day, have a “balanced” life, and… are exhausted and burned out. In my experience the difference between these two people is their ability to be present and pause, and their ability to stay connected to their purpose, their intentions, and to their relationships and the people they serve. Being connected to purpose is core here. If you’ve forgotten, or disconnected from, WHY you do what you do, work and daily life can become a painful grind (which has contagious and ripple effects). So reconnect. What is your purpose? Why do you do what you do? Who does it impact? What are you in service of? All of these questions can help fuel this component of bringing us back to ourselves.

Of note, it’s important to stay conscious and current with our purpose. I’ve found that as we grow, our purpose needs to grow with us. We can outgrow it if we’re not conscious. I’ve seen this in business leaders who are hugely successful and then hit burnout. It can be a combination of all these Ps and often, and this is a big one, they need to up-level their purpose and their connection to it. This awareness (and then doing the work to do so) can unlock a whole new level of energy, wisdom, and impact. So check in – is your purpose bigger than you, so much so that it brings you alive? Does it energize you? Does it make you more positively and usefully contagious even within YOURSELF? Worthy inquiry. I love this one.

Connect with people. This includes people in every domain, the people you love and lead (which are likely part of your purpose as mentioned above), the people who love and lead you, your support group, your posse, and the human beings you relate with and impact in any way – connection is essential. I’ve noticed in the “busy-ness” of life, despite more ways to connect than ever, we can forget that we’re here to serve and be with each other as people. We can also isolate and forget that we have support and a posse and humans to connect with in the first place. This results in not asking for help, not having a safe space to be real and vulnerable, and not having connection. These things are all essential for the human spirit. We have to connect. So come back to this one – connect with people in terms of your service, leadership, and purpose, AND connect with people in service of YOU.

Connect with pain and pleasure. This one is significant to our well-being and energy as it can be easy to move fast and bypass pain (or pleasure) or any authentic emotion that comes with this big beautiful thing we call life and leadership and human dynamics. I see it as one of the primary contributors to burnout today, not letting ourselves have our emotional experience and getting the care and support we need to honor our mental and emotional well-being. “Busyness” does not help this. Overriding anger, pain, disappointment, trauma, or any true feeling because we “can’t” because we’re a “leader” or a “parent” or “tough” or whatever the case maybe, or because we don’t have time for it, or because we don’t want to appear “weak” or “needy” or “less capable” is one of the worst things we can do for ourselves, our leadership, and for each other. We must give ourselves permission for authentic emotion – the good, the bad, the ugly, so that we can have “all of ourselves.” And also, so that we can hold clean space for others.

Self-care is an act of leadership (and a crucial leadership skill). Getting help is a leadership skill. In order to fully access ourselves, to be responsible with our leadership and projections, and to have access to more of our pleasure, we need to create space for honoring our pain as well. If there’s a place you find that you keep overriding or an emotion that you avoid or skip right through, get curious, get support, and find a responsible place to explore so you can acknowledge it, honor it, learn from it, integrate it, and also be “free” of it (meaning in “right relationship” with it, in partnership with yourself, and not letting it “own” you or your leadership). This support can come in the form of a friend, therapist, coach, advisor, group, or anyone/thing that provides a responsible and safe space for you to be you.

Any of these four will create steppingstones to a healthier and clear state. I’ve found that with each step, every time we partner with ourselves in any of these, we create more strength and clarity.



What are some ways to deal with the emotional vampires that seem to pop up at work?

It’s easy to get knocked off kilter, loose your space, “match” the lowest vibration in the room, or get sucked into the “emotional energy vampire” at work (or even at the grocery store or the holiday dinner table or in that PTA meeting). AND, there are great ways to work with this, ideally proactively and also reactively (especially when you don’t see it coming!).

In the book I talk about how to deal with “that guy/gal,” how to use formulas for shifting the energy in the room, how to hold boundaries, and how to opt out or gracefully navigate OPPPE (other people’s problems, projections, and expectations) – this is a rich topic. For now, let’s looks at this at a high level proactively and reactively.

Proactively, your best bet is to build your own energetic state and what I call “energetic immunity” first so that you have a stronger field to more easily identify, deal with, and even redirect low energy in the room. The stronger our own field and state is, the more quickly we can recover or avoid this dynamic all together. Ways to build our own field include self-care, sleep, our nutrition and what we fuel our body with, exercise, meditation, our self-talk, breathing, and simply being aware that we have our own space, that energetic dynamics are at play, and that we DO have power here. All of these things support us in building our emotional, mental, and physical energy so that we’re more resilient and proactive to begin with.

In addition to our self-care and building our immunity proactively, we can also do things ahead of time with these dynamics. For example: you can set your intentions before you go into that meeting or conversation, “bubble up” (which is a practice I share in this work to help us create awareness of the space we OWN around us and choose what gets in and out), do your “5 Steps to Intentional Impact” (a five step framework I share for helping people create the physical and relational outcomes they want), and take a minute to just get present and WITH YOURSELF before you engage. The strongest presence, intention, and energy in the room will win, so hold that well. So that’s my first thought – get in front of it.

Now, when you’re in that room or conversation and this is happening, say the lowest energy in the room is winning, or your energy vampire is having a feast – this is when you reboot. First stop, breathe, reboot, bubble up, remember you have your own space and that you get to decide what you want to let in it and if you’re going to “match” them. Don’t match. Stay in your space. Let your knowingness and presence being stronger than their doubt or negative contagiousness. Voila, now you’ve “secured your space” in that dynamic.

From here you can decide what to do. Do you want to get curious with them? Offer them grace? Ask them what they can do to shift their situation? Explore with them what their request might be under their complaints? Give them feedback about their impact on the room or you? Share a noticing you have about their pattern? Hold a boundary about how they’re being with you?  Or maybe there’s some wisdom here and the way they’re showing up is indicative of a bigger problem, so again – curiosity. Or, it may be time for you to “exit the building.” In any case, you won’t know your best next move or be clear on your intention if you’re not present, bubbled up, and in your most resilient resourceful state possible to lead and navigate this dynamic.

By the way, this is ONE of the reasons why self-care and paying attention to our own contagiousness is SO essential in leadership; if we’re exhausted, poorly fueled, hung over, not present, not taking care of ourselves, etc. etc. we’re not fully resourced. Not fully resourced, it’s harder to connect with a clean intention and see our best next moves. As well, our patience is compromised, decision making is not as clear, and grace and leadership are harder to access.

So for those vampires in your life and the lowest vibration in the room – do your own energetic hygiene work as proactively (and in the moment) as possible, dance with what shows up, hold your ground and your boundaries as needed, and then either help lead them to a new place and invite them to step up, or lead yourself out of there to where you know best.



Being clear, setting boundaries, and saying no are all important, and seemingly all linked. Tell us more about these strategies and why they elude so many of us.

Honestly, I think this boils down to a lack of awareness and presence, connection with ourselves, and the 7 Ps that I talk about above that create burnout. The things you mention here, these all impact energy and burnout as well. If we’re not present and in partnership with ourselves and tuned in to purpose, then it’s really easy to get sucked into the swirl of chaos, other peoples’ agendas and needs, and the impossible dance of trying to make everyone happy. When we’re in the swirl and not present, it’s really hard to be clear, say “yes” and “no” (to the right stuff), set boundaries, and show up fully in service of the impact we want to have AND in service of ourselves being the strongest, most resourced, and most powerful leaders possible to have that impact.

So I bring us back to awareness, presence, staying clear on our intentions for impact, and taking care of ourselves. Sometimes this means being extra clear, setting some big boundaries, saying big no’s, letting people down, changing or completing relationships, and maybe not being liked by everyone. We get to choose what we’re committed to. Am I committed to the life I want, the experience I desire, the impact I want to have in this world, and being the best, most healthy and alive positively usefully contagious version of myself? Or am I more committed to being liked, playing nice, being a ragdoll to all the demands around me, and being exhausted –  hoping that someday maybe I’ll change it? It’s a simple question. The leadership is how you put it into play. At the end of the day, what are you committed to? Go from there.



How to Use Projection as a Positive Force

Would you share just a little about projection and its power, how we use this as a positive force?

Projection is energy and a form of communication through presence and a way of being that is usually communicated non-verbally. It’s also often verbally communicated when we’re in an experience with someone. And it takes many forms. For example, I’m having a bad day, I walk into my team meeting, and I bring my experience of the bad day and project it on everyone around me, assessing their actions and presence through my projections, passing that energy onto them, and likely creating more ick not just for me, but for them now. OR, I assume the way you feel about something because of the way I feel about it. OR, you’re going through something and since I have my own experience with it, I project how you should feel or what you should do, when really, it’s not mine to say. OR, I have a history of mistrust or being let down in my life, so therefore I assume everyone around me is untrustworthy and will let me down. So I project that energy and expectation on you, my team, etc. (Likely creating more of that experience by the way.) We could go into so many ways this shows up and has challenging effects not only on our ability to connect and be with each other but to lead and serve.

Anese Cavanaugh


And to your point, there is also a powerfully positive side of projection in that we can use it, and our awareness of it, to honor our own space and really “stay in our lane” as to what’s true for us (versus taking on someone else’s energetic projections). We can use this awareness to be more in service of the people we lead by holding a clean container for them to have their own experiences. And we can also use this awareness to prevent getting “hooked” into a projection dynamic in knowing that everyone has their stuff, we’re all human, we all project, we’re not bad, it’s not personal – AND the leadership is knowing how to separate out what’s ours and not, to be responsible (and response-able) for our projections, and to move forward accordingly.

In its best form, I think projection can be used as a positive force by simply holding a solid and clean container for another human being, being aware of our own projections and honoring what’s here now in real time.



We have a good mutual friend in Ari, so would you end by sharing how awesome Zingerman’s is?

I have big love and deep, deep gratitude for Zingerman’s and for Ari. They’ve been such a great friend to me and this body of work for many years. They’re a remarkable organization – incredibly good people, have amazing contagious impact on so many beings and businesses, and the food… oh my, the food. Everything I know about olive oil, vinegar, chocolate, putting love into food, and palates I’ve learned from them. On a professional note, they’ve been a great partner and advocate for this work for just over ten years and have done a beautiful job integrating some of the principles, tools, and frameworks in their own way. I’m out there at least once a year and do my best to build events around the ZCOB – Ann Arbor always feels a bit like coming home to a second home and a huge part of this is the energy and love I get from that crew. Being around any of them, you know the feeling of being in a positively contagious environment. (Even their mail order feels good.)


For more information, see Contagious Culture  and Contagious You.



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