Navigating the crisis: balancing prudence and boldness

One of the characteristics of effective leaders is that they are good at managing their energy. This a complex topic, and requires practice. It starts with self-awareness: What is my energy level now – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? And why? Do I want to change it? When? And how?

Beyond self-awareness, we need the knowledge of how to build and restore energy. It includes exercise, nutrition, intellectual stimulation, breaks at regular intervals, relating deeply with friends, and connecting with the deep sense of meaning in our lives.

We cannot be at peak performance all the time, so important leadership disciplines include managing my communication with others and my impact on others when I am feeling low, and managing my cycle so that I can deliver when it really counts. One way to visualize this is with the energy map (credit to Loehr and Schwartz) – the simple two-by-two depicted below.

It is incredibly helpful to know which quadrant I am in at any time, and to know when and how to move from one quadrant to the next. We do not have absolute control of where in the map we find ourselves, but through conscious interventions, we can influence our position and move from one quadrant to a better one.

This spring (spring 2017) has been very busy for me. I have been in the Performance zone much of the time. I have zipped around the Americas, Europe and Asia, delivering leadership seminars, facilitating top-team alignment workshops, hosting webinars, giving talks, designing culture change interventions, coaching executives, attending board meetings and much more. It has been exhilarating. I managed to stay in the Performance zone for about six months. Sure, I was sometimes tired and jet-lagged, but I would bounce back quickly when I found myself in front of a new group of people where I had the opportunity to inspire, to stretch, to challenge, and to encourage.

And then it hit me. I slid into the Survival zone where I was dragging my body to work every day; driven more by habit and a sense of professional obligation than by true inspiration. I believe it was the combination of two disappointing events that triggered this change. It is often like that, isn’t it? We can tackle a single challenge, but when they pile up, we struggle – especially if we have been running hard for a while. In my case it was the combination of a professional disappointment (an interesting project was postponed by my client) and a personal set-back (unexpected strife with a long-time friend).

After dragging my body to work for a while, I knew that I had slipped further – into the Burnout zone. I knew that I had to take conscious steps to recover. The specifics are perhaps not important, but here is what I did. I shared with my wife how I was feeling, and asked her for space, for patience and for support. Simply naming where we are at often helps. I got back into a better rhythm of exercising, and would go running several times a week. I caught up on sleep. I made sure to eat better – fruit and vegetables at regular hours rather than fast food gulped down at airports at odd hours. I stepped back and reframed my view of the situation. I chose to view this time of lower professional intensity (because the client project had been postponed) as a gift, a true blessing. I took time to catch up on professional literature and finished several books that have been on my list for a long time. I reconnected with friends in a very intentional manner. Specifically, I reached out to several of them and expressed my gratitude for what they represented in my life. And at the time of writing this, I sense I am moving back into the Performance zone again. One indicator: today’s morning run felt light – the photo accompanying this article is a shot of sunrise over Victoria Harbour, taken this morning at 6AM.

As I watched the sun break through the clouds, I was filled with an immense sense of gratitude.

A friend of mine recently said: “I love growing old!” Her exclamation touched me. As she aged, she felt more centered, more conscious, wiser. I resonate with her statement. As we grow older, we may hope to get smarter about managing our energy. I know for a fact that when I was younger I squandered my energy in all kinds of silly ways – driven by a wish for external recognition or driven by anxiety. Not productive at all.

I started this post by stating that managing energy is a complex topic. There are many facets to this topic, and it is good investment to explore these facets to that we can steward our energy effectively. And, fortunately, there are a lot of resources to tap into. A friend of mine, Tim Zak, has just launched a podcast on how to unlock the secrets of high performance: If you are curious, go check it out! The first episode ( is with Dr. Charles Eugster, a British world-record holding athlete, body builder, and author of Age Is Just a Number: What a 97 Year Old Record Breaker Can Teach Us About Growing Older.

Whatever our age, mastering the art and science of managing our energy enables us to more consistently be at your best. It’s worth our time to deepen our understanding and hone our skills in this critical area.

Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.