“Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge or your own energy and then
help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.” – Peter Drucker
It would be difficult to question the fact that we operate best as leaders when we are rested and feeling good. Yet sixty-three percent of people say they have “high levels of stress at work, with extreme fatigue,” according to a 2012 CompPsych survey.
Stress plus fatigue is what Jim Loehr, founder of The Human Performance Institute calls ‘burnout’. It is the least productive of the four energy states he outlined when working with athletes on improving their performance.
In an organizational context, when we are in burnout our communication suffers, we make mistakes, become less aware of others, work more slowly, and have to make a huge effort to be even moderately productive. If you have ever wondered why a certain task is taking three times longer than usual, or if you have ever sent an email and wished you could unsend it because you missed a key perspective, then you can relate to the costs of burnout.
In sum, when we are stressed and tired we fall short of our full potential and negatively impact those around us.
Is there any other way?
I have heard leaders share that it seems burnout is a necessary part of achieving their goals and living up to their values. Many say that hard work, long hours and relentless commitment to getting the job done is what enabled them to make significant contributions and earn their leadership roles. Moreover, it often seems like there is no alternative. Who is going to stop working long and hard because it would be nicer for everyone if they were more rested? And how would you even do that?
Shift in priorities
Energy management is the art and science of proactively reducing the amount of time we spend in burnout in favor of high performance. The leaders I’ve seen choose this path prioritize factors over work volume and long hours. These include quality of work, quality of relationships, quality of leadership presence, career sustainability, wellbeing, excellence of strategic vision and long term results, among others. Many share that at one time the burnout approach of long hours and high work volume made sense, but that they reached a point in their career when sheer quantity of work was no longer an effective or fulfilling strategy.
A Growing Body of Work
Jim Loehr’s ‘Four Energy States’ model, as depicted above, gives a glimpse into a growing body of work that can empower us to spend less time in burnout while still showing up strong for our commitments and values. The way we cycle through these energy states is highly individual, and developing self-knowledge that is then integrated into our scheduling, self-care and team practices can be highly impactful.
The stages of energy management for high performing leadership
• Developing awareness of which energy state you are in at any moment
• Learning what triggers push you into stress
• Learning your ‘smoke signals’ that indicate you have moved into burnout
• Learning how to tell when you are in acute versus chronic stress
• Knowing how to get into the recovery energy state
• Expanding your options for effective recovery
• Proactively pulling yourself out of chronic stress and burnout with the use of recovery
• Using the positive version of acute stress to perform your best at key moments
• Developing a practice of regularly using effective recovery
• Developing a personalized approach to how you eat, sleep, and move to support high performance
• Using self-talk and self-compassion to manage negative thoughts and emotions
3. Schedule integration
• Categorizing meetings by energy state
• Knowing which meetings or situations require the most energy and planning accordingly
• Proactively planning your schedule to align with your energy management principles
o What times of day you schedule different types of meetings
o How you schedule travel
• Making schedule adaptations when a chronic stress cycle is detected
4. Team integration
• Sharing your energy management strategy with your support team
• Developing shared understanding of each person’s energy dynamic and their core needs
• Discovering and implementing methods of mutual support
Among the arguments in favor of proactive energy management, the one I have seen to be most compelling focuses on the impact on others, both at work and at home. Observing the ripple effects of just one leader who shifts to being primarily in a performance versus burnout energy state is truly inspiring.