Julie Thorson

Energy exchange is a real thing. Feeding off other people’s energies can be great, but other times, somebody’s toxic energy can stick to you and ruin your day. 

I am no scientist, I’m not even a cook, but I would like to introduce emotional Teflon in leadership. Teflon, I’m told, is some kind of freaky scientific breakthrough that won’t allow anything to stick. It’s great in pans and cookware and allows for even the stickiest of food to easily peel off the pan. 

So where is our emotional Teflon? If there were a coating for not taking on or absorbing other’s energy or reactions wouldn’t our work be a bit more palpable? Let me explain. Just recently, another’s intense emotional reaction caused me to do the same. The issue wasn’t intense, but the reactions were. I lost my Teflon and found myself reacting in a similar way. Why? Energy provokes energy. 

Leading during these times is a challenge because we must create our own Teflon. Beyond that, we need to find ways to prevent those reactions and emotions from sticking and burning through our own energy. That, my friends, is the real sticky part. 

This takes focus, patience, understanding and a positive mindset even in times of stress. In the moment, our Teflon armor doesn’t just pop up. We must be disciplined enough to find it. I certainly haven’t mastered this skill. I admire those who can let someone else’s strong reaction roll off their backs. I still find myself matching their energy at times rather than calmly responding. It’s another reminder that leadership, work and personal development never really end. 

Leading with humility matters. Energy matching energy matters. Being able to know when Teflon is needed is a skill, and I believe it’s one we can learn with practice and grace. Some people will never find it. They will always match others’ energy and reactions. They will go through their lives winding up every day to match the intense, sometimes toxic energy around them. How completely exhausting. 

This is a time when we need positive, empathetic leaders who understand heightened reactions aren’t always needed. Make no mistake: I am an intense person. Our work means everything to me. I can stand on a soapbox, motivate, and (I hope) inspire with the best of them. I also realize I still have so much to learn and the image of emotional Teflon I will carry with me during my next crucial conversation. 

In leadership, those conversations happen every day. They often happen unplanned, and they don’t always go as we had hoped. The question to ask yourself is: Is your energy the kind that no one wants to be stuck to or the kind we welcome? 

Julie Thorson was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. She currently co-facilitates Leading Age Iowa’s Leadership Academy. She is a Leading Age Academy fellow and former coach.  The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program in 2019.  

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.