March 17, 2010
I have a hypothesis that people instinctively want to be led by whoever has the most energy. Sometimes that energy manifests itself in fiery speeches, Hitler being a good example. Winston Churchill was famous for only needing 5-6 hours of sleep per day, and working his staff late into the night. You often hear about how much energy American presidents have for jogging, chopping wood, or campaigning. In Russia, Putin likes to be photographed with his shirt off, wrestling with bears and whatnot. French Presidents have enough energy to run the country and satisfy mistresses without missing a beat. I’ll bet you could take any two candidates for president, ask registered voters which one seems to have the most energy, and the survey would predict the winner.
You might say that energy is only one of several necessary traits that a leader needs. Perhaps Churchill’s lack of sleep had more to do with his workload than his energy level. Maybe the candidate who has the most energy can shake hands and kiss babies for more hours each day, and it’s the campaigning that makes the difference. But I give you Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and any other bat shit crazy leader with an IQ of 90, scary hair, and nothing much else going for him but lots of insane energy. Energy attracts followers, even when it isn’t backed up by anything else.
The same theory of energy is probably true for the popularity of celebrities. The other day I found myself in a discussion with friends about what makes Paris Hilton so popular with some people, and so reviled by others. I think the difference has to do with your perception of how much energy she puts into her work. If you think she’s just a lucky rich girl, coasting through life with the help of handlers, you probably have a low opinion of her. If you think that being Paris Hilton is probably a huge amount of work, and she’s running her own show, and calling all the shots, you might have a high opinion of her. In other words, if you think she’s a person with lots of energy, you like her more than if your impression is that she has low energy.
You’ve seen what happens when an energetic person enters a room. It raises everyone’s energy level, and a boost of energy always feels good. Humans are imitators. When someone yawns, we yawn. When someone laughs, it puts us in a good mood. When someone is a downer, we feel down. A leader probably does little more than convey a sense that he has a lot of energy himself, which boosts the energy levels of everyone who gets that message. We like the feeling of energy, so we keep the leader in power so we’ll see more of him. We’re all energy junkies, and our leaders are pushers.