Sustaining Personal Energy in Leadership

By Martha Beahm, D.Min., Ed.S.

I Cor. 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”

When we are in the role as a servant leader, we often do not include ourselves in the many activities that tend to claim our calendar and time. Learning to listen to your energy level is essential if you are to sustain a high level of activity.

We in leadership speak of “time management” or “stress management”. If you think about it, how much of this is truly in our control? So much of what happens in both our personal and professional lives is heavily influenced by other people and situations. For that reason, I would like to offer another way to think about your personal care in the midst of servant leadership

There are Four Principles* related to our energy:

Principle 1: Being fully energized requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. We are integrated beings. We often focus on one domain of our being, such as exercising to be physically fit, or being in a Bible study to stay spiritually “fit”. We may take “mental health days” for rest or take a walk in nature for our emotional well-being. What we often don’t acknowledge is that all of these are so intertwined. To have one diminish impacts all domains. To build up one enhances all.

Principle 2: Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal. Have you ever noticed that in grieving, you are exhausted in every way possible? Have you recognized that when moving your home and family you are mentally and emotionally worn out along with the physical fatigue? Balance of all four sources of our energy is the key.

Rest is not idleness, it is necessary in the intense work of serving others. That balance between rest and “workouts” will look different for each person.

Principle 3: To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits. Growth does not happen when we stay in our comfort zones. In his classic book, Stages of Faith, James Fowler states that it is in the crises of life we grow our faith. That is when we make transitions and grow in our depth of understanding and are open to something more than we have known before. The Quaker author, Parker Palmer, has stated that in order to learn what we don’t know yet, we must let go of what we think we know. Openness to learn is a vulnerable state. Yet, without that vulnerability, we are stagnant and our spirit begins to dwindle away.

Principle 4: Positive energy rituals—highly specific routines for managing energy—are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance. Rituals are those behaviors and activities that are habit. We usually don’t need to think about doing them when they are occurring. Positive energy rituals are ones that increase and sustain a high level of energy over a period of time. For example, you may listen to your favorite music to relax, go on a personal retreat, or work out in a fitness center. Positive energy rituals will vary for every person.

Research** has indicated that to sustain a high level of emotionally intelligent leadership, one must have the characteristics of mindfulness, hope, compassion and playfulness. Following these Four Principles in your care for personal energy is a step towards attaining this type of leadership. In attending to your own positive energy level, you are more open to be creative, to learn and to grow. Awareness is the first step towards becoming intentional.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, in their book “The Power of Full Engagement”, state, “To be fully engaged we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.” If you want to be able to respond to the high level of care that is often expected as a servant leader, you must care for your personal energy level. In doing so, you will be more energized to be available to others.

* Loehr & Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement, 2003

** McKee, Johnson & Massimililan (June 2006) “Mindfulness, Hope & Compassion: A Leader’s Road Map to Renewal”, Ivey Business Journal)

Martha Beahm is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates