“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration,” said Nikola Tesla, the eccentric Serbian inventor renowned for his experiments in electricity.

If all life is energy, then COVID-19 social distancing can be viewed as a potent, world-wide energy depressant. And that’s a big deal because energy affects everything, from the gait of your walk, to how often you hug, smile and laugh, to the impetus you have to achieve your goals.

You want your energy to flow freely like the whitewater rapids of the Futaleufu River in Chile. When was the last time you laughed so hard your belly hurt? Or bellowed so loud, you almost lost your voice? Or partied until sunrise with your best mates? If you’re finding it hard to remember, join the club.

Magnifying the energy is what leaders do

If leaders do anything at all, they magnify the energy. And energy really matters, because the overwhelming majority of people in organisations are vastly under-utilised. If you lead a team of just 50 people and you can raise their energy level by 20%, that’s the equivalent of hiring 10 new full-time staff. That’s the multiplier effect of leadership, and all great leaders treat it as their No. 1 priority.

Think about this: Every day, do you search for someone who looks like they could do with a little bit of encouragement? If not, here’s how to spot them: It’s the ones who are breathing.

Every human benefits from an energy boost and every exchange between people is an opportunity for a leader to lift the energy. What is more, since “leaders create other leaders” and all leaders are in the energy-raising business – great leadership always gives rise to an “energy chain reaction.” Which is why the best cultures are characterised by back-slapping positivity, a “winning team’s locker room” feeling.

But it’s awfully difficult to have a winning locker room feeling if there’s no one in the locker room. So whenever possible, look to get your team back together in the office.

Energy is like flowing water

Think of energy as a river. If a river flows freely, the water is clean, crisp and refreshing. If it loses its speed and stagnates, it becomes opaque, a swamp, a breeding ground for weeds, mosquitoes and disease.

Make sure the river that is your “life energy” is not swamped by COVID-19. We are social animals and if our social interactions decline significantly, you can be sure it will affect your energy and your physical and emotional well-being.

COVID-19 is an energy depressant which in time – unless attacked by the leader in you – is akin to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation makes you irritable, snappy, grouchy, lethargic and disengaged. The French call it ‘ennui’, “a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.”

Latest research from McKinsey found significantly higher rates of tiredness, low motivation and burnouts amongst executives. The No. 1 reason for this state of ennui was a precipitous fall in the number of social interactions.

Impact of COVID-19 on relationships

To coopt Roger de Bussy-Rabutin’s famous quote about love: COVID-19 is to relationships what wind is to fire. It extinguishes the small and enkindles the great.

COVID-19 will eventually sort all your relationships into three categories, by:

  1. Extinguishing the small;
  2. Enkindling the great; and
  3. Exposing the fault lines of all the relationships in between.

If there’s an upside to COVID-19, it’s that it renders you a great favour by brushing away all the inauthentic and inconsequential relationships that littered your life. After all, who doesn’t want more time for projects and relationships that really matter?

The strong relationships get stronger, no surprises there. Strength revels in adversity. But what of the preponderance of relationships that don’t belong in either the “small” or “great” categories? What becomes of them during COVID-19? They will be tested. Some will survive and others won’t.

But don’t blame COVID-19. Whether you knew it or not, all these relationships already had a major fault line or two: COVID-19 didn’t create them, it merely revealed them. Think of it like this: when a river slows down, the rocks and boulders it once blithely rushed over, it now struggles to overcome.

The trick is to keep moving forward. Don’t let the energy of the relationships you value settle into a cesspool. That’s the graveyard of every relationship and the best antidote is movement. Stir the water. And if you must argue, argue kindly: “Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right,” – Haruki Murakami

And why should you bother? Because friendships long for immortality. Because no life is truly happy or successful without friendships that survive the test of time. Or to put it differently, in the words of Clarence in the classic 1946 film, It’s A Wonderful Life: “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Leaders matter more than ever

When all is said and done, the impacts of COVID-19 on relationships and mental health will prove to be far greater than its impacts on physical health (considerable as these are). And while we need doctors and front-line workers to combat COVID-19 as a virus, we need leaders to combat COVID-19 as an energy depressant. Leaders who can remove the driftwood and debris interrupting the free flow of energy.