Archive for January, 2014


January 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Tom Peters mentioned more than once that he’s nearly driven to tears with the sheer intensity of presenting. I know how that feels because it takes a staggering effort to prepare for and deliver sustained focus, engagement, listening, and thoughtfulness of response. And honestly this is the only effort worthy of our clients, customers, and our own professional values.

As leaders we are expected to deliver this level of effort on a daily basis. Realistically though, can you completely empty yourself day after day? How long can you keep this up and how fast can you bounce back and repeat?

The key word is STAMINA: The physical and moral strength to resist or withstand fatigue, hardship, and prolonged physical or mental effort.  Stamina is a critical leadership attribute, and no matter what you think; you need more. The expectations and demands of leadership require it.

The good news is that stamina can be trained: if you don’t have it, you can get it. If you already have it, you can get more. It’s not easy though. There is only one effective way to increase stamina: Forced disruption followed by disciplined recovery


Forced disruption is the same as going to the gym or going for a run, and it works like this: if you don’t change up your workout routine you get stale and plateau. This happens with your work life too. Going about the same routines, solving the same problems, with the same people and tactics will make you go stale and will erode your stamina over time. There are so many resources about disruption we couldn’t begin to cite them here, but a good place to start would be this great post by Whitney Johnson in the Harvard Business Review . Forced disruption for the purposes of increasing workplace stamina centers on getting outside your normal routine, normal patterns, and normal stimulus. A wholly non-inclusive list of disruptive options might include:

  1. Talking to people you don’t know.
  2. Reading something really hard
  3. Learning the operational languages of other departments.
  4. Taking news feeds from outside the US
  5. Taking on a project your don’t know how to finish

The important thing is to get out of the rut and get stimulated!

Disciplined recovery is the second element to improving workplace stamina. This element also draws from the gym metaphor: You make the greatest gains during your recovery phase; not from forcing the disruption without a break. Ask any gym rat: the overwhelming tendency is to ignore the recovery phase and train until you’re either hurt or so burned out that you stop altogether. The act of recovery must be a planned in advance, and it must be approached with as much discipline as the forced disruption. Like forced disruption, the empirical premise for disciplined recovery is well documented, including here, here, and here. Admittedly I have a bias for Crossfit, and the engineer in me loves Lonnie Lowery’s scale for quantifying recovery:

  1. Nutrition: 8 points
  2. Hydration: 2 points
  3. Sleep: 3 points
  4. Rest: 1 point
  5. Meditation/Relaxation: 1 point
  6. Emotional Support/Relationships: 2 points
  7. Warm-up: 2 points
  8. Stretching: 1 point

Anything less than 10 points on any day indicates insufficient recovery. You can experiment with your own plan, but without a disciplined recovery plan to match your forced disruption your stamina will actually drop as you become increasingly burned out.

So, what do you think? Do you have any personal stories of being emptied, of training to increase your stamina, and what happened next? What has worked for you? We’d love to hear about it!

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