Napoleon Never Slept: How Great Leaders Leverage Social Energy: Microtechniques of success from Jesus to Steve Jobs

Sociologist Randall Collins writes in this 2016 book:

* Charismatic leaders get people focused. They turn their attention onto the same thing. They set in motion positive feedback loops: people in the group build up a shared emotion; the stronger the emotion, the more they feel themselves in tune with each other, and the more tightly they focus together. And the more tightly they focus, the more their shared emotion pumps each other up.

* At the time when people are feeling it, collective effervescence is so overwhelming that you feel nothing can stop us. But the adrenaline fades out in half an hour or less, and the psychological afterglow fades over a period of days or at most weeks. That is why high enthusiasm for something depends on repeating the experience. It is why religions invented regular church ceremonies– once a week appears to be a good approximation to the time-dosage needed to keep up a continuing commitment. This would be an average commitment. Really high commitment– on the level like Steve Jobs– are kept going by much more frequent jolts of collective effervescence, repeatedly during the day, every day.

* Two people coming together always have the possibility of becoming mutually focused, and building a shared emotion to a high level of rhythmic entrainment. This is what people mean when they say they “click” with someone, or not.
Crucial point: People with high EE go through more successful, energy-building encounters, and fewer EE-draining encounters.

* The feedback cycle: building rhythmic entrainment. Once the encounter is launched, build up shared rhythm. Feel your own rhythm; anticipate other people’s rhythm. Let them blend together. If this can be achieved, initial emotions get transformed. The initial emotion can be fear of an enemy or worry about a problem. It can be anger. And of course, it could be happiness. The key process, however, is to take the initiating emotion and transform it into collective effervescence: sheer bouncing off of each other into a chorus of shared emotion. And that generates emotions on another level: solidarity– the feeling of the bond of the group; and Emotional Energy, that makes individuals feel strong.

* Low attunement drains emotional energy.
Not all encounters succeed. A lot of them are mediocre, neither bringing you down nor pumping you up, just getting along with people, keeping up the routine. Nothing wrong with that; it is how most personal relationships are maintained, and how most organizations operate on a daily basis. But it is not how great organizations work, nor how top careers are made. Steve Jobs hated this kind of routine.
Some encounters are worse than this. They poison personal relationships and send an organization on a downward slope. The causes are in the ingredients.
No mutual focus . People don’t focus on the same thing when they are together. They don’t pay attention to each other. It’s easy to spot. Someone comes into your office, but tunes out what you are saying and looks impatient to head for the door. An audience that checks their email while someone is speaking. A party where the person you are talking to keeps looking around. Research on speed-dating has found that asking a lot of questions is a sign that people aren’t clicking. Good conversations may start with asking a question (what kind of work do you do?) but it quickly leads to a series of back-and-forths because you are focused on something that interests you both.
There are several different reasons why people don’t focus on each other. Among other things, they may not want to. Whatever the reason, if they can’t focus together, the encounter won’t get to the point where it generates any EE for them. The longer it goes on at a low level of focus, the more it becomes a downer.
No shared emotion. Sometimes people are really out of mood with each other. The guy who wants to be casual and jokey, the woman who wants to gush, are not going to get along with someone concentrating on something serious.

* Even worse than forced rituals are phony rituals. These are where you make a real effort to be up-beat; you talk enthusiastically, laugh at people’s jokes, try and get in the swing of things. It’s hard work when nothing ever turns into a spontaneous rhythm. After a day of such encounters, you end up with what is called “interaction fatigue.” This is fairly common in going through a series of job interviews. The organizational pep talk is a loser if all it does is bore the audience.

* Extreme EDOM is typical of charismatic leaders. In fact, it is virtually their defining characteristic. It includes being absolutely decisive. Nothing is allowed to break the rhythm, no hesitating, nothing but single-minded focus on the goal.

* The basic problem is charisma is unstable. It is an irresistible force when it exists, but it needs to keep up a steady stream of successes. Charisma needs to be repeated at regular time-intervals, and it can’t disappoint.

* The reputational sphere is volatile. After all, it is only a pseudo-network, not something that can be controlled from the center. It is not a dictatorship, and big winners eventually get replaced.

* winners practice longer and harder than their competitors. But no, not really. High-level losers tend to practice very long hours. Their determination comes out in how hard they practice, how many hours they put in on the practice field or in the training room.

* What is different about the winners is how they practice.
— Winners practice specific details. They want to keep their fingers at just a certain angle as they stroke through the water. They want to touch the wall when they turn in just the right way. A dozen such details occupy their attention. They aren’t just practicing to make oneself stronger. They are extremely technical about what they are trying to do. They are being thoroughly professional.
— Winners enjoy practicing. This may be the biggest distinction between the top and the rest. The winners are not grinding their way to higher performance. They like what they are doing. That is why they can spend long hours doing things that other people would find tedious. It doesn’t wear them down; it gets them high. It feeds their emotional energy.

* Winners are experts. This is their self-image: a self-image not just in one’s mind but deeply engrained in one’s body. Their confidence is not just in telling onself– “I am a winner.” Their confidence is not put in so many words, but if it were, it would come out as: “I know how to do this.” Better yet: “I feel how to do this.”
This is what their practice achieves for them. It is why they enjoy practice. It gives them a feeling of being supremely good at what they do.

* Winners are completely mundane and objective. They have dozens of little techniques to concentrate on, and that is what fills their attention. For a winner, success means doing one mundane thing after another, and doing each of them supremely well.
As the saying goes, the star performer is in a zone– but the zone is calm, clear, as ordinary as it can be in the midst of what other people find tense, exciting, or suspenseful.
In a manner of speaking, the insider to success does have a secret formula. But it is the opposite of magical.
The secret is to keep yourself, in the midst of action, at the calmest and most focused level, while your opponents are fogged up by the emotions of the confrontation.

* Someone like Napoleon becomes an energy star. He is the core of feedback loops that repeat many times a day. He comes in, energized from what has gone before, and gives each new meeting trajectory and focus. He is a good listener, hearing bad news attentively, taking good suggestions forward. He coordinates everyone’s efforts, summing up key points and problems and what to do next. He keeps people in rhythm. The meeting is a success, both practically and emotionally; they move their project forward, and leave the place pumped up with renewed energy. The leader of a well-focused team is the most energized of all, because the energy star is the center of all the circuits.

* Big structural changes, and times of dramatic struggle, generate charismatic leaders: an energy center, someone who pulls all the strings in his or her hands. To tie everything together demands very hard work, great energy, going from one meeting to another getting people energized and attuned to a collective project. Situations of major structural change, where the advantage is to centralization and coordination, select persons who are high-energy coordinators. But finding such persons is not a sheer lucky accident. Their daily routine fills the person in that slot with emotional energy. Extraordinary changes generate extraordinary EE.

* Style trait number one: always active, never passive. To make an organization active (in this case 40,000 men) this meant galvanizing everybody, pulling the organizational threads together.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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