Leadership Development

Stress & Recovery: Important Keys to Engagement

There is some good news that can positively affect individuals and teams in your culture immediately, if they begin learning the principles of stress and recovery.

World-class athletes used to believe that they only improved performance through hard work. Wake up, train from dawn until dusk, sleep, and begin again. Does this sound familiar? It’s the attitude that today’s average professional has developed.

Athletes had to learn that, while the stress part of training is important, recovery is equally critical. Stress is the stimulus for growth; recovery is when growth occurs. If you have no recovery, you have no growth. When this is expressed in corporate audiences, the note-taking becomes furious. Why? Because this is a revelation to the average professional.


Before applying this concept to business, let’s look at another high-performance arena. Most would agree that military basic training is the epitome of toughening. Young men and women are converted into soldiers within a few weeks. The stress they experience, while immense, is only a part of the toughening equation. The soldiers endure miles of marching, demanding exercises and extreme discipline. But, remember that this is only the “stress” part. Novice soldiers are also put into a schedule of forced recovery. They are told when to sleep, when to get up and when to eat.

To further explore stress and recovery, let’s examine the sport of tennis. At the world-class level, heart rates can get as high as 200 beats per minute during a point. These athletes have 25 seconds to recover and prepare for the next point. Everything they do can be accomplished by businesspeople. Tennis players must learn that there are four levels of recovery. Physically, they relax the muscles of their hands, neck, arms and chest and exhale longer than they inhale. Emotionally, they instantly disengage from the disappointment of the previous point. Mentally, they shift their focus away from the trauma of the match to a neutral stimulus such as the strings of their racquet. Spiritually, they connect to what matters most during tough times. When they get all of these mechanisms working, they can achieve incredible recovery in seconds.

As a chief learning officer, you must ask yourself this question: “How valuable would it be for my people to learn to recapture energy in small time intervals during their workday?” Employees must strategically and intentionally disengage from their work periodically throughout the day. As difficult as this might sound, it is possible to refuel energy periodically during the day, to be more productive at work and to have ample reserves left over for home. As a result, performance goes up and loyalty improves.

Here’s an example. At some point during a busy day, a professional calls a sibling’s home and speaks with his 4-year-old niece. Does this professional say, “Gosh, the stock market is down today, and I’ve got a meeting coming up with this obnoxious person. I’m just not sure if I’ll see you this weekend because I’ve got so much to do.” No, the conversation is more like this: “Hey, how are you doing? How was school today? You painted a picture? Wow, can I see it when we’re together again?” The professional totally disengaged for a couple of minutes to speak with a little person who doesn’t understand a “tough day” (and also doesn’t care). After the call, the professional usually feels re-energized and “ready to go.” He has experienced emotional and spiritual recovery.

There are numerous ways that a busy person can recapture energy in very short time intervals. The key is changing the habit of linear, nonstop stress. This learned skill has huge rewards for both the learner and the organization.

Jim Loehr and Jack Groppel are co-founders of LGE Performance Systems. Both are pioneers in the field of performance science and have coached thousands of people in business, law enforcement, health care, education and sport. E-mail Jim and Jack at engagement@clomedia.com.

October 2004 Table of Contents

Filed under: Leadership Development

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