Hey leader, what’s your fuel?

Julianna Christie and I are currently attending Evolutionary Playground, a five-week virtual course created and led by Kathlyn (Katie) Hendricks, PhD, founder of the Hendricks Institute. On the first night of the course, Katie posed a question that I’ve been returning to again and again. Like most of Katie’s provocative questions, this one appears deceivingly simple yet invites deeper contemplation. Her question was this: which fuel are you running on, creativity or adrenaline?

I love this question for leaders because leaders run not just themselves but teams and organizations on one of those fuels.

Choose Your Fuel Wisely

Katie suggested creativity and adrenaline are two distinct types of fuel, one infinitely renewable (creativity) and other non-renewable (adrenaline). Adrenaline is short-acting and activated primarily from external stressors, fear, distortions of reality, and so forth. It makes you think and feel you’re alive but as soon as you get a hit, it’s already subsiding, so you need to generate MORE adrenaline to keep the fix going.

While some adrenaline is vital for our bodies to function, excess adrenaline takes a toll on our health and relationships. Adrenalized behavior in its extreme forms in business shows up as power struggles, turf wars, cutthroat negotiations, retaliation, hostile comments, and so forth. It can and will drain the energy out of a team.

Creativity, on the other hand, is long-lasting and renewable. Creativity can keep opening up. Creativity can look like collaborating for a win-win, building new structures, operating from purpose, generating responses, and choosing to be curious rather than “right.”

Signs of Creativity | Signs of Adrenaline (1)

How to Generate Creativity

You might know what a drama-fueled workplace feels and looks like, but might NOT know how to fuel the alternative, a creativity-fueled workplace. One method comes from within – our own body can generate a wellspring of creativity. In her article “Adrenaline and its alternatives,”(2) Dr. Vandana Verma suggests we can consciously and easily generate four natural feel-good substances inside ourselves: endorphins, dopamine, anandamide and serotonin.

You could think of these substances as adrenaline counter-punchers that support our creativity.

Below is the formula we teach our clients to shift from reactivity to creativity. We also created an illustrated worksheet for this process. These are the steps Julianna and I use ourselves to stay in a creative space:

  1. Become skilled at noticing when you’re reactive. Adrenaline is flowing but you might not realize it.

  2. Understand that adrenaline stays in your body (up to an hour) but you can help flush it out with specific activities we call “shift moves.”(3) Examples of shift moves can be found in this resource.

  3. Try out different shift moves to discover which ones reliably activate your feel-good substances. Four reliable shift moves we suggest leaders and teams start with:

  • Take three deep, slow breaths (which increase serotonin levels)

  • Move your body and change your position (which raises dopamine levels)

  • Become genuinely curious and ask yourself, “what can I learn in this situation” (which increases anandamide)

  • See and connect with others as allies (which produces endorphins)

I believe there’s a mythology about business that says adrenaline fuels success, i.e. to be highly successful you have to ride waves of high stress. While there are lots of business examples that seemingly validate this success formula, I suspect the formula exists primarily because most of us don’t yet know how to do life differently.

Rather than simply reacting to pressures and social norms, Katie’s question reminds us of our infinite capacity to author our own experiences and choices. Doing work differently, creating our own choices within us rather than living in adrenaline-fueled reactivity, is what we’re up to at Crafted Leadership.

Check us out

If you’d like to see what our leadership development practices look like in action, check out one of our bi-weekly 90-minute virtual trainings. They’re interactive, with opportunities to practice skills with other professionals with guided coaching. We also have a lot of free resources on our website.

1. Based on original work by Kathlyn Hendricks,PhD in the Evolutionary Playground workbook, Sept 2020 edition, page 7. See Hendricks Institute for additional information.

2. Article published in the Evolutionary Playground workbook, Sept 2020 edition, page 26-28, developed by Kathlyn Hendricks, PhD and published by Hendricks Institute.

3. “Shift move” is a term developed by Kathlyn Hendricks, PhD



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