Good leaders know when to get out of the game for a break. It’s like tobogganing as a child. There comes a point when the sled is going too fast and it is best to simply jump off. The trick is to get off while it is still possible. In his must-read book, Leading On Empty, Wayne Cordeiro writes: Your system has to recharge, but it requires a trickle charge, one that restores you with a sustained low-amperage.”
Stress is good. We need stress. It is by stress that we grow. It is not the presence of stress that destroys a leader; it is the absence of rest. In the sport’s medicine world, this need of stress and rest is called oscillation. Athletes increase their capacity by stressing their bodies to the limit and then resting/refuelling their bodies.
Jim Loehr, a performance psychologist, states: In the living laboratory of sports, we learned that the real enemy of high performance is not stress, which, paradoxical as it may seem, is actually the stimulus for growth. Rather, the problem is the absence of disciplined, intermittent recovery. Chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout and breakdown, and ultimately undermines performance. Rituals that promote oscillation—rhythmic stress and recovery—are the second component of high performance. Repeated regularly, these highly precise, consciously developed routines become automatic over time.
For exercise, I sometimes to swim in the mornings at a local pool. When I first started to swim again, I expected to be able to perform like I did when I was a teen. Halfway down the lane, I thought I was going to pass out! My body wasn’t used to exercising like that. The next day, I could barely move. But time after time, swim after swim, I began to move past sore muscles and shortness of breath. I went from taking a full minute to complete a length, to fifty seconds, then forty seconds, and then thirty seconds. Sports scientists say that what I’m doing is damaging my muscles and letting them heal. This healing takes about forty-eight hours, and surprisingly my muscles have then become stronger. Conversely, when I fail to oscillate between stressing my muscles and resting, I send my muscles into atrophy.
If you are overstressed, it is more likely that you mean that you are under-rested. The stress is actually increasing your leadership ability—but only if you are permitting “oscillation.”
I doubt there is a formula for oscillation, because every person is different, but every person can optimize his or her stress and recovery pattern. For example, in order to become a great public speaker, you have to put yourself in the nervous place of being in front of a crowd, repeatedly.
You must learn to rest effectively. Rest is a skill. Living in oscillation requires deliberate effort and hard work. Without rest, you cannot live or lead well. Musicians know that it’s the space between notes that makes the music.