Top athletes and sportspeople recognise that it is not possible to maintain performance at the highest level over a sustained period of time without allowing for recovery time. So why do business leaders think they can? By Douglas Lang.
IN a recent coaching session, my client ‘ Michael’ explained that he was feeling extremely stressed; there was too much going on; a number of changes were being made in his business area which he was having difficulty accepting.
The net result was that he was at the point of ‘checking out’ – starting to think about moving elsewhere. He was keen to explore what he might do to improve his situation.
Through some brainstorming, Michael and I identified a number of possible actions. Many of these were very sensible, practical ideas around organising his time better; being more assertive in saying ‘ no’ to meetings; putting together a well- constructed argument about his concerns with the changes etc. However, it was actually something else that Michael latched onto.
He realised that many of the issues he identified as the cause of his stress were things that, when he was in his best ‘state‘, he would deal with relatively easily.
He realised that he had let slip some of the disciplines that, when present, gave him the mental fortitude to deal with the stresses and strains of a busy role.
The conversation with Michael reminded me of points made in Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s seminal HBR paper – The Making of a Corporate Athlete. In the paper they point out that top athletes and sportspeople recognise that it is not possible to maintain performance at the highest level over a sustained period of time without allowing for recovery time. So they train hard but also allow their bodies (and minds) to come off their peak levels in order to recover.
For some reason, as business leaders we seem to think we should be able to perform at a peak level indefinitely, doing long hours, with limited (or no) exercise, less than great nutrition and disturbed sleep.
In their research for the paper, Loehr and Schwartz found that in sports, what gets in the way of high performance is actually not stress, which actually stimulates growth. The main thing that gets in the way is the ‘ lack of disciplined, intermittent recovery’.
Often the response I see in leaders with ‘too much to do’ is to keep extending their working day to try and cram more work hours in. While this might work for a short period it is not a sustainable strategy.
The answer is actually the opposite – to put the extra time and effort into disciplined recovery (exercise; relaxation; eating well).
This was what Michael realised through the course of our conversation. When he thought about how he operated when he was practising more self- care, he realised that he was still busy but he felt more able to cope.
He left the session having made a commitment to practise some ‘extreme self- care’ around exercise, nutrition and sleep.
I’m seeing him again in a couple of weeks. My expectation is, if he has given himself permission to take more care of himself, he will be in a much better place next time I see him. Douglas Lang is the director of Altris Ltd (www.altris.co.nz) specialising in leadership development and coaching.