Energy Management – A Critical skill for High Capacity Leaders
As we develop ourselves in leadership, gain skills and capacity, there are more demands on our time and energy than ever before. In many leadership trainings we talk about the importance of time management. We talk about maintaining a calendar/diary so we keep better track of our schedules, we talk about setting priorities and blocking time in your schedule for those things, etc. We all only have 24 hours a day that God has given us. We have to learn how to manage our time well and focus on the important things, schedule those things, rather than the urgent or less needful things. Managing your limited time well, and being in control of your schedule, is an essential ingredient to health as a leader.
It however, is not the only thing we need to learn to manage carefully. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their book “The Power of Full Engagement” address the key issue of energy management. Energy is basically our capacity to work. Our energy is limited. It can be used up and it needs to be renewed. The cycles in our lives of spending and renewing energy are something we as leaders need to seriously consider if we are to be all that God has called us to be.
I’d like to recommend Jim and Tony’s book to anyone who can take time to read it. It includes some huge keys for us as high capacity/high demand leaders. Let me write a short summary of some of the things I’ve been learning from this book and trying to apply in my life. I hope it might be a help to you as these things have been to me.
Schwartz describes our energy as having four primary expressions; physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy and spiritual energy. Each of these is important for us to carefully maintain and be mindful of how we spend and renew that area of energy.
In order to be our best in the ministry/work we do, we obviously need physical energy. There are three areas we need to be mindful of related to physical energy. The first is nutrition. Leaders who travel a lot can find it very hard to maintain a healthy diet. YWAM Bases are notorious for serving high carb diets and when you are a leader, lots of oil and lots of meat are served to us. Nutrition, however, is really important to being strong and healthy. The more responsibility we carry, the more we should be mindful of what we eat and don’t eat. It’s okay to say no to unhealthy foods, ask for a salad instead of meat, or to bring your own piece of fruit to eat at a meeting instead of the normal chips and biscuits. Don’t wait until you have high blood pressure or heart problems to start thinking about what you eat and don’t eat.
The second area is exercise. Again, in our busy schedules with so many demands, it can be easy to not prioritize exercise. Exercise is really vital for energy renewal. Taking a 10 minute walk in the middle of the morning after several hours of meetings or ministry can do a great deal to refresh you. Making time in your life for daily exercise, or a weekly football or cricket game, can make a big difference in your level of energy when you are doing your “ministry work.” I am finding that short periods of exercise throughout my day greatly helps me maintain a higher level of energy throughout the day. Stopping after 2 hours of emails, to do 10 minutes of sit ups and push ups, or go for a walk, or a 30 minute run, really changes the way I feel.
The third area of physical energy to watch is our sleep and rest. I’ve talked to many leaders who don’t sleep well or struggle to sleep. Getting enough rest and sleep is vital to energy renewal. God designed us that way. There are some things that you can do to sleep better. One is, start to wind down about 2 hours before its time to go to bed. Do things that relax you. Don’t work on emails or discuss with your spouse intense topics or ministry problems. Read a book. Listen to music. Write down 5 things you are grateful for in that day. These kinds of rituals can help you sleep better. Also, be careful about caffeine late in the day.
In the three areas of nutrition, exercise and sleep, develop habits or rituals that you carefully maintain on a regular basis. For example, always start going to bed at 9 pm, start your relaxation ritual and be in bed by 10 pm.
Another important area is our emotional energy. Emotional energy also is limited and needs to be renewed. As leaders, we love deeply and give of our emotions to many people and situations. We face conflicts and end up with drained emotions. Carefully guard your emotional renewal. Make it a priority to be emotionally renewed. Everyone is renewed emotionally by different things. For High D personalities and many others too, exercise is a quick way to emotional renewal. For some, its taking time to go get a coffee with a friend, or playing with your kids, building a shelf, or calling up a cousin or relative to talk. Gratitude is a big emotional energy renewal activity. Taking time to regularly be grateful to God and others, and to express that thankfulness will restore your emotional energy. I’ve started a habit of thanking God for at least 5 things before I sleep and when I wake up. I regularly write notes or emails to express appreciation to people. This is good for them and also renews me. Another thing I started doing is to read funny comics or jokes until I laugh out loud every day. Make space in your life for emotional renewal. As leaders and ministers, we need to be able to empathize with people’s struggles. This means our emotional tank needs to be refilled a lot. Don’t let yourself think it’s selfish to take time to do things to renew yourself emotionally. It’s what will help you be a better leader to others who can keep caring for others over the long haul.
Related to emotional energy, let me briefly mention the area of grief and loss. As leaders we are often faced with crisis situations, and have to be there to help people through serious and traumatic situations. This can drain a huge amount of emotional energy. We also experience our own grief when friends leave, parents pass away, someone is tragically killed, or someone you’d been mentoring and raising up falls morally, or decides to move on and leave the work. Give yourself space and time to grieve and feel the loss, talk and pray with someone about it, rather than just pushing it inside and continuing to do all the work you have on your plate. If you don’t, those areas of loss and grief add up and one day might just make you feel like you have nothing left inside to give out anymore. I know I’ve experienced this.
Then there is the area of mental energy. Mental energy is about our ability to focus. We need to learn to switch between being narrowly and broadly focused. Many people think the goal is multi-tasking. A good leader learns to multi-task, we think. Schwartz says that is not true, that it is more important to focus highly and well on one thing or person at a time. When we are multi-tasking, we can make people feel less valuable or unimportant. It is also good to remember that we need intervals of focus. The average person can not maintain high quality focus for more than 45 minutes. So, after 45 minutes in a meeting, take a break. Change gears. Don’t give in to that temptation to “just keep working and push through it.” In the end, you will accomplish less. Your mental energy goes down. Take a five minute break and stretch, go get a drink, check the news…whatever works for you. But taking breaks really helps with mental focus, both within the day and within the week. Sometimes it can be a symbol of pride when we have these meeting marathons that go from early morning till late a night, sometimes weeks on end. Or we think it is the sign of a highly committed leader to say “I haven’t had a day off in a month!” This is not good stewardship of our energy. Better to meet less and work less, but with more focused energy so we can accomplish more.
The last area is spiritual energy. Spiritual energy is not only about spending time with God and reading your bible. Spiritual energy is also gained by being engaged with the things you value and growing in areas of character you value. It also has to do with balancing of values within yourself. When your behavior matches your values, this creates a lot of spiritual energy. When your behavior doesn’t match your values, this is a big spiritual energy drain. For example, if you highly value humility but find yourself acting proud or insecure, your spiritual energy goes down. If you value patience, but find yourself losing your temper, you’ll struggle with guilt and self condemnation a lot. This is where a lifestyle of daily repentance, realigning ourselves and asking God’s help for what we have done that disappointed him and ourselves, is key. Then ask for grace to grow and improve in that area and find someone to be accountable to or who can coach you as you develop new habits/rituals in that area of your life. Forgiveness and letting go of offenses is also really important here. Keep short accounts and deal with issues and conflicts quickly rather than letting them build up. Also, make sure you are giving time to the area you feel called to by God, and doing things that fit your gifts, rather than just going to meetings or doing things out of duty. This will help you maintain spiritual energy.
Lastly, I want to mention the area of change. Don’t be stuck in the lie that you can’t change. We all can change and grow into healthier people with God’s help. But everything can’t change all at once. Let me suggest you think about the four areas of energy and chose one or two things you want to improve in this month. Then develop one new habit in that area. Maybe its daily exercise. Start small and be consistent. Then next month, after that new habit has become easy and natural, work on another area and another new habit to help you change and improve. In a year, you could change in 12 key areas. That is a lot of change!
I know God desires us to be full of His Spirit, healthy and full of energy every day. This is the abundant life he has provided. Its not His will for us to be exhausted, tired out, or burnt out leaders. God is teaching me new things about stewarding the limited energy He has given me well. He is teaching me to pay attention to how much energy Im giving out, and to make sure Im taking time to renew that energy rather than just continuing to give when there is nothing left to give. I know this is critical to my ability to continue to run this race with endurance, like it speaks of in Hebrews 12. Hoping this article helps you to run well too.
*For more information about energy management check out the website http://theenergyproject.com or get a copy of the book “The Power of Full Engagement.”