There is a difference between going home from work dog tired after leaving it all on the table and going home from work dog tired because you are drained. Similarly, there is a difference between being elated because of a specific circumstance and feeling so good just because you have a full life. Drains and fills compete for our attention all day every day. Drains are things that cause a negative emotional response. Drains can zap your energy, remove your creativity, and leave you feeling like you aren’t the person you want to be. Fills are circumstances that cause positive emotional responses. Fills energize you, stimulate creativity, and leave you feeling like you can do it, whatever it is. Understanding what fills you and what drains you is a key to maintaining productivity. As a leader, understanding what drains and fills your team is key to creating a culture that is both creative and competitive.

A few weeks ago I heard someone speak on this concept of understanding drains and fills. The speaker encouraged those in the audience to write down what drains you and what fills you. Not that there are always ways to avoid the drains and increase the fills but knowing more about these can help you respond when they are happening. My fills are pretty simple, an active relationship with God, a happy wife, house full of happy kids, and being productive. My drains are almost exactly the opposite, distance from God, unhappy wife, screaming kids, and laziness. Often times all of these happen on the same day, usually leaving me feeling drained. Unfortunately, the drains usually impact you more significantly than the fills, it is not a one for one match. When there are more fills than drains in the day, I can usually sleep pretty well knowing that while the day wasn’t perfect, I was productive and did the best I could. Give it a thought for a few minutes and it will quickly be evident what fills you and what drains you.

What fills a team or drains them and what impact can these drains and fills have on your teams ability to achieve goals? Fills and drains for every team can be unique to that team and its industry but there are some general concepts that apply to all teams. Teams are filled when there is a manageable workload, when they are being heard, when they see their leaders engaged, and when they sense their jobs are relatively secure. Even if a project is insurmountable and extremely large, breaking it down to small pieces and communicating status along the way is very helpful to managing the workload. Chris and I have written many posts on about listening well. It is extremely important to an information age worker to be heard and if that is true, then it is very important to your business to listen. Walking around engaging with teams and understanding their work draws a team closer and makes everyone feel like they are in it together. Who wouldn’t want that? Many industries are in a state of major change, technology advancements are driving it. While the future may be uncertain, good communication again helps with the feeling of an uncertain future.

The opposite of these fills of course are the drains. The number one reason why someone leaves an organization is their relationship with their immediate supervisor. Lack of engaged leadership is a huge drain on the modern worker. Another drain on the modern workforce is meaningless work. People today want to feel like they are making a difference in the world, even if it is only a small one. If you are leading a team of dishwashers somehow lead them to believe that they are making peoples lives better when they see clean dishes. Ever get a dirty plate at a restaurant? Me too, I am not quick to return to that place. Every play golf on a poorly maintained course? Me too, hesitated to go back. Leaders have a great responsibility to ensure that everyone in the workplace has a chance to make a difference.

As leaders we have little control over individual’s drains and fills but we must work to be aware of them and help team members try to achieve good balance. As leaders we have a lot of control over the drains and fills that are in our immediate environment in our workplace. Work with others on your team to try and clearly define what fills and drains your team. Then put a plan in place to try and capitalize on one and minimize the other.


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