Human Energy for High Performance

Athlete
Extraordinary performance is achievable when you understand your personal mission.
This article is adapted from an article originally written for Horizons Magazine, a publication of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, Spring 2020.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of working with a group of leaders on the subject of human energy for high performance. During this session, we explored what it takes to perform consistently with the highest levels of energy when it matters most, based on decades of research conducted with elite athletes and military special ops teams. Sports psychologist Jack Groppel and his colleague, exercise physiologist Jim Loehr, were seeking to understand how these high performing professional athletes, who were at the top of their game, could rise to even higher levels of achievement. What these researchers discovered was that regardless how much time, energy, effort and training these athletes put into their preparation, their performance was limited until they were able to tap into what mattered most to them: their ultimate mission.

When you compare these professional athletes to professional leaders, it is easy to see the similarities. Leaders are like “corporate athletes,” in that they are required to perform consistently under intense pressure, measured by their numbers and held to sometimes brutal accountability. Last year’s record becomes the new standard or baseline for this year’s performance. Taking care of one’s body is taking care of the business. Laser-focus in the moment is required for success.

Lastly, the right energy is required for high performance in both of these types of professionals. Professional athletes work four to six hours per day, 90 percent of that time is spent training and preparing for game time. They endure a career span of seven to 10 years. By contrast, professional leaders typically spend eight to 12 hours per day, 10 percent training for a 30+ year career span. In agriculture, these numbers are likely even more extreme. The key difference here is that elite performers invest in training, whereas our professional leaders are up against more demands over a longer period of time with limited resources and training. So how can we train for life? The reality is we only have 24 hours in a day. However, we can change the energy we bring to those moments that matter most to ourselves, stakeholders or loved ones. Energy is a personal resource that can be expanded and managed. Proper motivation changes our mindset and changes our energy. The more engaged we are, the greater our ability to perform at higher levels. Managing our energy, not time, is key to unlocking extraordinary results.

Energy is four-dimensional: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. These dimensions are connected to, and create impact on each other. For example, when someone is physically exhausted or hungry, it is normal to observe a heightened emotional sensitivity. In fact, we might say they are “hangry.” Similarly, when emotions are heightened, such as worry, fear, anger, we know this may impact rational thinking and decision making in the mental dimension. Furthermore, when we allow these other dimensions to rule us indiscriminately, it is unlikely we are fulfilling our greatest purpose, functioning as our best self, or operating with emotional intelligence. The spiritual dimension refers to having a clear sense of one’s personal ultimate mission, rather than any specific religious or faith-based traditions, although these might inform one’s sense of purpose. Lastly, it bears noting that although energy inspires extraordinary performance from the top of the pyramid down, we increase energy capacity from the bottom up. For example, when we can prepare in advance for creative problem solving in the mental dimension by caring for our physical well-being with adequate sleep, nutrition and hydration, and then addressing the emotional dimension through journaling, deep-breathing or talking to a loved one.

Practical Application: National Travel Seminar

During a recent national travel seminar, participants were afforded daily opportunities to practice energy management on all dimensions. As our alumni will report, these travel seminars are an intense, often emotionally charged marathon of meetings and experiences, designed to expand critical thinking skills while reinforcing leadership behaviors and principles from previous seminars. Not only is the schedule fast-paced and physically demanding at times, but also the topics and issues discussed may challenge the mental and emotional dimensions as well.

Program participants demonstrated exemplary energy management by balancing the high intensity and demands of some days with adequate rest and self-care as needed, as well as understanding and compassion for each other during some of the more sensitive moments of the trip. Navigating the day-to-day adjustments, the class acknowledged the looming uncertainty that followed in anticipation of the coronavirus outbreak. It seemed we were one day ahead of each stop in our agenda.

We had planned to tour the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn about leadership in emergency situations (i.e., outbreaks). So, when the EOC was activated and we were relocated to a different part of the facility, we were uncertain what we might encounter during our discussion of emergency preparedness, food safety and tour of the David J. Sencer CDC Museum. Then we learned that President Trump would be onsite the next day, so there was a level of increased security and flurry of activity in preparation for his arrival. Special thanks to our contact at the CDC, without whom we likely would not have had access, were it not for connecting with her as a participant in one of our 2019 programs. When visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park and National Center for Civil and Human Rights (also in Atlanta), the class experienced a simulation of the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s, learned about the Freedom Riders and the courageous struggles endured in the not so distant past.

In Washington, D.C., the class called on all three branches of government, learning how each one interacts with others and enjoyed a special tour of the Capitol with Rep. Jim Costa. As we departed to Gettysburg, Pa., on Thursday to learn about leadership lessons on the battlefield, it was announced that all of the government offices had been closed to public visits. Then Friday, we departed in time to arrive home, reconnect with loved ones and prepare for self-quarantine.

We are grateful to have completed this travel seminar when we did. What a difference a day makes! I commend the class for setting the pace, managing their own needs, showing up with their full and best energy and engaging completely in this learning experience. They will make a significant difference both individually and collectively in the months and years to come.

Time for Reflection

At the time of writing this, California is under a mandatory shelter-in-place directive, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition to what has already been said about the importance of self-care, personal hygiene and social distancing, now more than ever, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to recalibrate, reassess and redefine our personal missions. May we all take this moment in time to reflect on the following questions:

  • What matters most?
  • What difference do I really want to make in the world?
  • Why is this so important to me?
  • What is at risk if I do nothing?
  • What are the stories I tell myself about why (or why not)?
  • What small daily rituals can I begin creating today that move toward that ultimate mission?

The research shows when we take moments to reflect on questions like these, we are capable of unlocking extraordinary results. Imagine if we all became clearer on our personal mission, and took one small step forward toward it. And then another, and another. Think of what could be possible!

For more information on this or other leadership topics, please see the following references or contact me directly at info@bluehorizonsolutions.org.

Resources:

Harvesting the Fruits of Our Labor

Growing up in the small, Central Valley town of Lodi, Harvest represents to me a season of reaping what has been sown, seeing fruits manifest, enjoying outcomes, and of course, evaluating performance. You’ve done the planning, laid the groundwork, tilled the soil, planted seeds of opportunity, and waited… sometimes patiently. Now is the season when all of those efforts begin to pay off!  The fruits of your labor are bursting forth with possibility.   How well does your organization measure its performance against strategic goals and objectives? 

Many organizations struggle to define clearly measurable performance objectives. When this happens, success metrics may not accurately reflect actual outcomes, impact or progress toward the organizations ultimate mission. Consequently, this complicates reporting, funding endeavors, and strategic planning initiatives for the following year.  What story does your performance measurement tell? 

Our strategic planning process begins with the end in mind. First, we evaluate existing key performance indicators, comparing against stated goals and objectives from the organization’s mission, 3-5 year and annual plans for alignment, measurability and validity, just like any good research project. To break that down a bit, here’s what we mean:

  • Alignment: Are we measuring what matters?  Sometimes we measure factors other than what was stated in the mission, strategy and annual plan. While this is perfectly normal and acceptable, let’s be certain we are doing so with intention. It is critical to determine to what degree are we achieving our mission. Performance indicators need to illustrate movement in the appropriate direction on the most important dimensions for your organization. These indicators tell us how close we are to achieving the goals, doing what we told our customers (and shareholders) we would do, and what needs to be improved as a result. 
  • Measurability: Can our performance indicators be measured?  Often, stated organizational goals are not only aspirational, but also esoteric, so they may not be captured in a quantifiable way. Even with the most subjective aspirations and strategies, quantifiable, measurable goals can be assigned to present a clearer picture of performance.  So this is an opportunity to revisit the organizational mission and objectives.
  • Validity: Do performance indicators measure what we intend to measure? For example, when measuring employee engagement, factors such as attendance or attrition may be interesting independent factors, but we can only measure the relationship between these factors, but we typically cannot argue causality from these alone.  What other data would better inform your planning for the future?
  • Recalibration: What story do the performance indicators tell? Every year, organizations large and small have the opportunity to recalibrate, realign and course correct for the following year. How would you like to envision the story at the end of next year?

Find Direction and Unlock Extraordinary Performance

Have you ever felt that there’s just not enough time in the day? Most often, when we run out of time for projects or pursuits, the reason is that we’ve spent a lot of time lost in ambiguity.  If you had 5% more energy, how would you prefer to spend it?

Research by Human Performance Institute shows that when human beings connect with our deepest sense of purpose  – or mission – we become significantly more focused, more intentional and more effective.  Decisions about how time should be spent are overridden by the impact a choice will have on our ability to show up with our full and best energy when it matters most.  When we are supremely clear about where we’re going and what we want to do, there’s no sense of time lost. Our actions are clear & precise, and we can make an AMAZING amount of progress in just a short period of time.  In reality, extraordinary performance is less about time management, but rather about energy management.  To energize your mission, follow these steps:

  1. Lay a Firm Foundation: Your physical well-being is the foundation for what you can deliver. When your body is tired, dehydrated, malnourished or burned out, how can you expect show up and deliver a world-class performance in a clutch situation? Continuously pushing your body beyond its capacity will force it to shut down.  The good news is that capacity can be increased through alternation of strength training and recovery intervals.  Meanwhile, be proactive and listen to what your physical body is telling you: Strengthen me, Feed me, Water me, Walk me, Rest me. Take care of it before it forces you into recovery by shutting down.
  2. Balance it out: Highly stressful work and life situations are emotionally demanding and physically exhausting.  Be mindful of your emotions, as well as how they are showing up in your conversations and your relationships.  Sometimes, stepping outside of the line of fire can restore a focus on that mission once again by recognizing what really matters most.  The simple act of reflecting on what you are grateful for has the power to reconnect you with what energizes you, motivating and driving you forward in a way that is meaningful, satisfying and powerful.
  3. Change perspective:  Sometimes we humans have a tendency to overthink things.  By stepping away from a problem or challenge to view it from a different angle, we open ourselves to think differently about what could be possible solutions.  Get outside your head a bit. Go for a walk. Go to the gym. Bounce an idea off a thought partner. Visualize the outcome. Then return to the question you’re trying to solve.  And be intentional.  It’s amazing how a different point of view can radically improve the quality of the solution!
  4. Connect to your Ultimate Mission:  Being clear on what matters most – that deepest sense of purpose for you – is what differentiates average from the exceptional. Seek your purpose. Find your direction. Get clear and be intentional.  Unlock the extraordinary!

What keeps you from achieving your highest purpose?

For more information on how we can help you identify your deepest purpose, contact us today. Learn. Lead. Leave a Legacy.