If you get a chance this autumn to read one book we would seriously recommend ‘The Power of Full Engagement’ by Loehr and Schwartz. This book is about giving you an ‘edge’ in your performance and centres on the need for leaders to deliberate not only on the way we lead their lives, but how we regenerate our energy on a regular bases: “We race through our lives without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go. We’re wired up but we are melting down.” We focus far too much on doing than being.
Picture a typical two by two leadership model: at the top right hand box is ‘maximum performance’; on the top left hand box is ‘survival’; on the bottom left hand box is ‘burn out’; and on the bottom right hand box is ‘recovery’. Now as high performing leaders we seek to operate in the top right hand box – maximum performance. However, the question that is asked throughout this book is far more important and subtle – where are you when you are not maximising your performance? The truth of the matter is that in times of strain and high financial instability many of us go from high performance to ‘survival’; in other words we are ‘flat lining,’ creating considerable stress both to ourselves, our colleagues and our families. The essence of the book is that we cannot continue to operate like this or we will simply burn out. The balance between expenditure and recovery of energy has been lost
What is particularly useful in this book is the acknowledgement by the authors that high performers operate in massively stressful environments. This is never denied, indeed it is positively encouraged. What they insist on, however, is that once we have entered into those stressful environments, we then take time to drop down to the bottom right hand box of ‘recovery’. By creating habits that allow us to enter periods of short recovery following high intensity we actually maximise our performance even beyond our previous capacity. To be fully engaged it is vital that we as leaders are physically energised, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our own immediate self-interest.
This is about changing mindsets: we need to move away from thinking that recovery time is a sign of weakness rather than an integral part of our working day. In order to achieve our recovery we need to create working rituals that allow us to step back, recover and then re-energise into maximising performance. The book gives numerous examples of how we can create habits that help us recover and give us that revitalisation in order to stay ahead of the performance curve. One in particular is counter intuitive: it asks executives to stop answering their emails as they come into their computers. Rather it offers options of concentrating only twice a day on emails so that we can give them our full attention. By being constantly disturbed and responding to external demands, we become slaves to technology and are drained of our purpose.
The big message: be physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually focused (your purpose) in order to maximise your performance. Enjoy working in high stressful environments but equally seek to move into recovery environments in order to regenerate your person. As Aristotle says – ‘we are what we repeatedly do’ – create habits in the working day to recover. Literally give yourself a break. Nobody can run on empty – life just does not work that way.
We need to create daily habits that allow recovery or that bottom left hand box of ‘burn out’ will be our final dwelling place. “Overwork is this decade’s cocaine, the problem without a name.’ Can you afford not to read this book?