The Power of Full Engagement | Book Review

Several of our leadership workshops (Energize2Lead or E2L, Personal Leadership Philosophy & Setting Leadership Priorities) describe the importance of energy as our basic leadership fuel. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz tell us why via the concept of full engagement,  in this lifetime work which should occupy any leader's bookshelf alongside Crucial Conversations

New Paradigm | Full Engagement

To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest (p. 5).

The authors summarize the new energy (leadership) paradigm (p. 6):

Old Paradigm

   Manage time
Avoid stress
Life is a marathon
Downtime is wasted time
Rewards fuel performance
Self-discipline rules
The power of positive thinking


New Paradigm

Manage energy
Seek stress
Life is a series of sprints
Downtime is productive time
Purpose fuels performance
Rituals rule
The power of full engagement

A good portion of the authors' research comes from working with top-performing athletes, who spend a great deal of time preparing for relatively short duration competitions. In contrast, the performance demands that most people face in their everyday work environments dwarf those of any professional athletes (p. 8). As good leaders, we should consider daily our expectations of others and the corresponding energy required for positive outcomes.

Four principles develop the engagement (pp. 9-14) model, forming the book's outline:

• Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual
• Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal
• To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same way that elite athletes do
• Positive energy rituals -- highly specific routines for managing energy -- are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance

After developing the full engagement model (about two thirds of the book), the need for underlying purpose is explored, followed by self-examination (audit) and how to develop rituals.

Engagement Rhythm

Eugene Aserinsky and Nathan Klietman discovered that sleep occurs in smaller cycles of 90-120 minute segments (p. 31), called the "basic rest-activity cycle," or (BRAC), which also extends to our waking lives via ultradian rhythms. We should therefore consider daily cadence structuring our energy management challenge. This could be challenging, since we live in a world that celebrates work and activity, and ignores renewal and recovery (p. 37).

A Dynamics of Engagement (p. 38) diagram helps, recommending both high and low energy (red and pink, respectively) descriptions of fully engaged and fully disengaged-type conditions. Put another way, our daily patterns should toggle between the red and pink squares, while avoiding the negative (gray) quadrants. If we wish to improve, or build capacity, we must expose ourselves to more stress -- followed by adequate recovery (p. 43). 

An interesting nugget backs this up: The authors noticed what the very best professional tennis players did between points - they instinctively used the time between points to maximize their recovery (p. 32).

Our Four Energy Sources | E2L

Our physical energy, the size of our energy reservoir, depends on the patterns of our breathing, the foods we eat and when we eat them, the quantity and quality of our sleep, the degree to which we get intermittent recovery during the day, and the level of our fitness (pp. 48-49). This is our foundation and it's critically important. According to the National Academy of Sciences, medical errors, many of them at least partly caused by fatigue among doctors, account for nearly 100,000 deaths a year, more than from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer and AIDS combined (p. 57).

Knowing our (and others') E2L profiles can be a great help, since emotional intelligence is simply the capacity to manage emotions skillfully in the service of high positive energy and full engagement (p. 72). How can we do this? Like Covey's important but not urgent quadrant, the authors found making enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming activities priorities (p. 76). A series of useful case studies (pp. 84-89) discuss expansion of emotional capacity, similar to Flip Flippen's concept of relational capacity. Keep in mind negative emotions (think E2L instinctive dimension) serve survival but they are very costly and energy inefficient (p. 92).

The key supportive muscles that fuel optimal mental energy include mental preparation, visualization, positive self-talk, effective time management, and creativity (p. 94). Thinking burns an enormous amount of energy. The brain represents just 2 percent of the body's weight, but requires almost 25 percent of its oxygen (p. 96)! How can we wisely use our mental energy? Reflection and journaling can help. According to Betty Edwards, the highest form of creativity depends on a rhythmic movement between engagement and disengagement, thinking and letting go, activity and rest (p. 98). Does this mean time management doesn't matter? The authors tell clients clients it is not an end in itself. Rather it serves the higher goal of effective energy management (p. 106).

Recall that declaration of our values is the cornerstone our our Personal Leadership Philosophy. The connection to a deeply held set of values and to a purpose beyond our self-interest -- is the most powerful source of our motivation (p. 110). We should periodically ask ourselves (and others) how much of our leadership energies are focused beyond ourselves. More than at any other level, spiritual energy expenditure and renewal are deeply intertwined and tend to occur simultaneously (p. 113).

Purpose | Audit | Rituals

If growth and development take place from the bottom up -- from physical to emotional to mental to spiritual -- change is powered from the top down (p. 131). Acknowledging our metaphysical side takes courage. The simple, embarrassing reality is that we [often] feel too busy to search for meaning (p. 132).

Loehr and Schwartz describe positive purpose becoming a more powerful and enduring source of energy in our lives in three ways: when its source moves from negative to positive, external to internal and self to others (p. 135). As leaders, we can ask ourselves if the daily application of our and our organization's core values satisfy all three criteria.

Pages 154-155 offer an excellent cost/benefit (audit) chart with the most common (to the authors) observed expedient behaviors along with corresponding short-term benefits and long-term consequences. For example, multitasking may feel productive yet eventually leads to shallowness of connection to others.

We may audit our energy expenditure with the following questions (p. 157):

• How do your habits of sleeping, eating and exercising affect your available energy?
• How much negative energy do you invest in defense spending -- frustration, anger, fear, resentment, envy -- as opposed to positive energy utilized in the service of growth and productivity?
• How much energy do you invest in yourself, and how much in others, and how comfortable are you with that balance?
• How much energy do you spend worrying about, feeling frustrated by and trying to influence events beyond your control?
• Finally, how wisely and productively are you investing your energy?

Positive energy rituals are powerful on three levels. They help us to insure that we effectively manage energy in the service or whatever mission we are on. They reduce the need to rely on our limited conscious will and discipline to take action. Finally, rituals are a powerful means by which to translate our values and priorities into action... (p. 166). Think of all the daily activities we don't spend energy thinking about: driving a car, walking, eating, etc. Rituals conserve energy.

There are several key elements in building effective energy-management rituals but none so important as specificity of timing and the precision of behavior during the thirty-to sixty-day acquisition period (p. 173).

Conclusion | Leadership

It's all about personal energy alignment.

JE | December 2016