Living Beyond Your Capacity Curriculum (Teacher Edition): Understanding the Spirit-Filled Life

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Over time he found his work increasingly exhausting and dispiriting. After practicing the lens exercises, he began finding ways to tell himself a more positive and empowering story about his role. Many executives view multitasking as a necessity in the face of all the demands they juggle, but it actually undermines productivity. Once people see how much they struggle to concentrate, they can create rituals to reduce the relentless interruptions that technology has introduced in their lives. We start out with an exercise that forces them to face the impact of daily distractions.

They attempt to complete a complex task and are regularly interrupted—an experience that, people report, ends up feeling much like everyday life.

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Dan Cluna, a vice president at Wachovia, designed two rituals to better focus his attention. The first one is to leave his desk and go into a conference room, away from phones and e-mail, whenever he has a task that requires concentration. He now finishes reports in a third of the time they used to require. Cluna built his second ritual around meetings at branches with the financial specialists who report to him. Previously, he would answer his phone whenever it rang during these meetings.

As a consequence, the meetings he scheduled for an hour often stretched to two, and he rarely gave anyone his full attention. Now Cluna lets his phone go to voice mail, so that he can focus completely on the person in front of him. He now answers the accumulated voice-mail messages when he has downtime between meetings. Wanner has also reset the expectations of all the people he regularly communicates with by e-mail. Nine months later he has yet to receive such a call. The result, he said, was that he would be less available to them for questions. Like Wanner, he told his team to call him if any emergency arose, but they rarely did.

He also encouraged the group to take regular breaks throughout the day and to eat more regularly. Another way to mobilize mental energy is to focus systematically on activities that have the most long-term leverage. Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute. Perhaps the most effective focus ritual the executives we work with have adopted is to identify each night the most important challenge for the next day and make it their very first priority when they arrive in the morning.

Jean Luc Duquesne, a vice president for Sony Europe in Paris, used to answer his e-mail as soon as he got to the office, just as many people do. He now tries to concentrate the first hour of every day on the most important topic. People tap into the energy of the human spirit when their everyday work and activities are consistent with what they value most and with what gives them a sense of meaning and purpose.

Linking Capacity and Performance at Wachovia

Indeed, if we tried to begin our program by focusing on the human spirit, it would likely have minimal impact. Only when participants have experienced the value of the rituals they establish in the other dimensions do they start to see that being attentive to their own deeper needs dramatically influences their effectiveness and satisfaction at work. To access the energy of the human spirit, people need to clarify priorities and establish accompanying rituals in three categories: doing what they do best and enjoy most at work; consciously allocating time and energy to the areas of their lives—work, family, health, service to others—they deem most important; and living their core values in their daily behaviors.

Conversely, you can love doing something but have no gift for it, so that achieving success requires much more energy than it makes sense to invest. Then we have them deconstruct those experiences to understand precisely what energized them so positively and what specific talents they were drawing on. Or is it using a skill that comes to you easily and so feels good to exercise? Finally, we have people establish a ritual that will encourage them to do more of exactly that kind of activity at work. A senior leader we worked with realized that one of the activities he least liked was reading and summarizing detailed sales reports, whereas one of his favorites was brainstorming new strategies.

The leader found a direct report who loved immersing himself in numbers and delegated the sales report task to him—happily settling for brief oral summaries from him each day. The leader also began scheduling a free-form minute strategy session every other week with the most creative people in his group. Rituals can help close this gap. When Jean Luc Duquesne, the Sony Europe vice president, thought hard about his personal priorities, he realized that spending time with his family was what mattered most to him, but it often got squeezed out of his day. So he instituted a ritual in which he switches off for at least three hours every evening when he gets home, so he can focus on his family.

The third category, practicing your core values in your everyday behavior, is a challenge for many as well. Most people are living at such a furious pace that they rarely stop to ask themselves what they stand for and who they want to be. As a consequence, they let external demands dictate their actions. If you are very offended by stinginess, for example, generosity is probably one of your key values. As in the other categories, establishing rituals can help bridge the gap between the values you aspire to and how you currently behave.

If you discover that consideration is a key value, but you are perpetually late for meetings, the ritual might be to end the meetings you run five minutes earlier than usual and intentionally show up five minutes early for the meeting that follows. Addressing these three categories helps people go a long way toward achieving a greater sense of alignment, satisfaction, and well-being in their lives on and off the job. This new way of working takes hold only to the degree that organizations support their people in adopting new behaviors.

We have learned, sometimes painfully, that not all executives and companies are prepared to embrace the notion that personal renewal for employees will lead to better and more sustainable performance. To succeed, renewal efforts need solid support and commitment from senior management, beginning with the key decision maker.

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At Wachovia, Susanne Svizeny, the president of the region in which we conducted our study, was the primary cheerleader for the program. She embraced the principles in her own life and made a series of personal changes, including a visible commitment to building more regular renewal rituals into her work life. Next, she took it upon herself to foster the excitement and commitment of her leadership team.

Finally, she regularly reached out by e-mail to all participants in the project to encourage them in their rituals and seek their feedback. It was clear to everyone that she took the work seriously.

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Her enthusiasm was infectious, and the results spoke for themselves. At Sony Europe, several hundred leaders have embraced the principles of energy management. Over the next year, more than 2, of their direct reports will go through the energy renewal program. Organizational support also entails shifts in policies, practices, and cultural messages. Others offer subsidized gym memberships. In some cases, leaders themselves gather groups of employees for midday workouts.

One company instituted a no-meeting zone between 8 and 9 am to ensure that people had at least one hour absolutely free of meetings. At several companies, including Sony, senior leaders collectively agreed to stop checking e-mail during meetings as a way to make the meetings more focused and efficient. One factor that can get in the way of success is a crisis mentality.

With the permission of their leaders, they practiced defusing negative emotions by breathing or telling themselves different stories, and alternated highly focused periods of work with renewal breaks. The implicit contract between organizations and their employees today is that each will try to get as much from the other as they can, as quickly as possible, and then move on without looking back.

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We believe that is mutually self-defeating. Both individuals and the organizations they work for end up depleted rather than enriched. Employees feel increasingly beleaguered and burned out. Organizations are forced to settle for employees who are less than fully engaged and to constantly hire and train new people to replace those who choose to leave. We envision a new and explicit contract that benefits all parties: Organizations invest in their people across all dimensions of their lives to help them build and sustain their value.

Individuals respond by bringing all their multidimensional energy wholeheartedly to work every day. Both grow in value as a result. Become a fan of The Energy Project on Facebook. Catherine McCarthy catherine theenergyproject.

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Managing yourself. Tony Schwartz Catherine McCarthy. View more from the October Issue Explore the Archive. Executive Summary Reprint: RB As the demands of the workplace keep rising, many people respond by putting in ever longer hours, which inevitably leads to burnout that costs both the organization and the employee. Please check the statements below that are true for you.

Coaching Feature William Oncken, Jr. Mankins A few deceptively simple changes can make an executive team more efficient and effective. A version of this article appeared in the October issue of Harvard Business Review.

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