← Back to the blog homepage

Breaking Down Energy: What You Need to Know as a Coach, Leader, Educator

A little known guy with funny looking hair, named Albert Einstein, proved that, quite literally, everything is energy.  This energy is also contagious, really contagious.

Just think about someone whom other people see as a leader, and that someone seems to always be in a bad mood when he or she walks into the room.  How quickly can the tension be felt?  What can you read on everyone’s faces?

Conversely, think about the dynamic leader who helps others believe in themselves and gives others the credit for results.  How quickly does everyone engage?  What do their faces look like by comparison to the first example?

The ripple effect being felt is energy.  And it’s critical for coaches, leaders, educators, and, yes – even human beings, to understand this impact.

So, let’s define two key terms to ensure we’re “speaking the same language:"


The process the body uses to generate energy to counteract a stressor.  The body will find available energy stored within its system and pull from it to generate energy.

Catabolic energy = draining, contracting, resisting energy (cat = down, against)

The opposite energy and process is anabolic.  Anabolism is the process by which the body builds itself up and grows.  Anabolic energy is constructive, expanding, rejuvenating, and sustainable.

Anabolic energy = constructive, expanding, fueling  energy (ana = building, upward)

Catabolic and anabolic energies stem from a much deeper level for all of us (from our level of consciousness or awareness, formed by the sum of all of our life’s experiences… but that’s a subject for another time!). For now, the key is recognizing these energies and beginning to lead them.

(To learn even more about this, pick up a copy of the groundbreaking book, Energy Leadership, by iPEC founder, Bruce D Schneider, MCC, PhD.)

Recognizing and Leading Catabolic Energy

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.

When you see the above responses, know that catabolic energy is at work. So, as a leader, coach, or educator, ask empowering questions that build understanding into the other person’s perspective. Help them understand what button might have gotten pushed. Use your curiosity to see if you can help them identify how they're interpreting the situation. And, help them look at other perspectives to open up new possibilities for a way forward. Essentially, use anabolic energy!

Recognizing and Leading Anabolic Energy

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.

When you see anabolic energy at work, you want to help unleash it!

Give recognition to those who are collaborating, those who are helping others, and those who demonstrate an understanding of the multiple perspectives around the circumstances at hand.  Praise those that stay calm in the face of challenges, as they bring people together and create new solutions.  Ask questions that help them stretch their thinking even further – that help them to willingly challenge their own assumptions.

For coaches:

This is a big part of what you learn at iPEC to fuel your client’s success.  The above is just a tiny glimpse into these processes.

For leaders:

This is a critical understanding to shift the engagement, perspectives, and behaviors of those that work with you.

For educators:

Much like leaders (because you ARE leaders), think about what this understanding could provide to a school district – as a superintendent builds leadership capacity and consistency across multiple schools and principals; as a principal sets the tone for the culture of shared leadership and open dialogue with her faculty; and, as the teacher helps a student form a belief system of “yes, I can,” while focusing on critical skill development and stretching beyond fact-based only learning.

What would happen to our schools?  To our future generations?