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For Sustained Performance

Essentials for long-term personal and team achievement

Li #239 For Sustained Performance
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I’VE HAD THE privilege to travel on five occasions to the nation of Haiti to work with community and church leaders. While that country is a total disaster in every way, I’ve come to love many of the people I met there, and to appreciate the sense of humor they exhibit despite countless difficulties. My favorite Haitian saying is: “Behind every mountain is another mountain.”

That phrase accurately describes the physical characteristic of an island where most people walk to their destination, but it’s also a metaphor for life. Difficulties follow difficulties. I often think of that saying working with men and women in the world of business. We’re given objectives, goals, and projects. There is ever-present pressure to achieve them. Finally, the results are in. We have succeeded. “That’s great! Way to go! Now about next year’s goals …”

“Behind every mountain is another mountain.” The question is, how can you as an individual, and how can your team, maintain a high level of performance in an environment where the work is never really done?”

We wear down under long-term stress

Before becoming a full-time executive coach, I spent 3 decades counseling literally thousands of individuals and families going through every form of trouble and tragedy you can imagine. From that experience, I want to offer some general observations about people who are experiencing long-term stress.

  • People often have a harder time dealing with low-level but long-term stress than with a major tragic event

This may seem counterintuitive. I don’t mean, of course, that people don’t experience grief, shock, and sadness in a tragedy. Those are normal reactions. It seems, though, that most can step up to a major problem and deal with it if they have a good support network.

What seems harder for most people is a lower-level problem that goes on and on and on. Examples might be a chronic disease, prolonged unemployment, or caring for a child or parent with special needs. The daily endurance of the challenge with seemingly no end in sight wears them down over time. This happens regardless of how mature, intelligent, or strong they are. The business world’s never-ending demands can do the same.

  • Under long-term stress, people tend to stray away from self-maintenance practices

Can you imagine an athlete anticipating a marathon saying, “I don’t have time to rest or eat! I have to run a marathon!” Good luck with that. Endurance athletes know they must load up on calories, sometimes by two or three times, to successfully complete their event.

Observing people with long-term life challenges, I have consistently seen them do the opposite of what they need. They begin to neglect basic self-care. They begin to withdraw from important relationships. They lose their taste for things they previously enjoyed.

If you lead a team, you can expect some of your people to do the same. It may be happening to you right now.

  • As people wear down, they become duller mentally and emotionally, leading to less initiative and more errors of judgment

As the marathon continues (one with a completely unknown finish line!), even the smartest and strongest experience a gradual decline. Creativity and initiative dry up and they grow increasingly passive. If this goes on long enough, people arrive at a sort of paralysis. They put life, happiness, and productivity “on hold,” waiting for some day when the stressful situation ends.

What I have written in the points above may seem bleak, but it is unfortunate truth about human beings. Here’s the good news. If it’s happening to you ─ or if you are a leader seeing these things happening to your team ─ you can do something about it.

Make self-maintenance a priority

Four years ago, the world changed. Working remotely became the norm, though there are strong currents pushing for an adjustment back to at least partial in-person work. Whether your team meetings are in person or remote, self-maintenance should be a regular topic of conversation.

With all my clients, I lead an exercise to examine and build their self-maintenance practices. I am absolutely convinced that anyone who wants to be a top-level performer over the long haul must know how to maintain themselves and do so. For many of the hundreds of clients I have coached, this exercise was the single most important thing we covered, even life changing. In this exercise we take a 3-D snapshot of their self-maintenance practices through three lenses.

  • Intrinsic Lens: What activities for you bring about refreshment and recharging?

This category can include anything from exercising to reading to watching movies to arts and crafts; in fact, anything that regenerates you. I operate by an unofficial military motto: “If it’s stupid but works, it isn’t stupid.” I tell my clients, “If flying on a trapeze is relaxing to you, go for it!

  • Extrinsic Lens: What people in your life provide encouragement and support?

These individuals can be professional or personal relationships: Friends, family, coworkers, mentors, or a “best friend at work.” Put individual names here.

  • Environmental Lens: What places for you are areas of peace, rest, and refreshment?

These places can be anything from a certain chair in your home to a park bench to a coffee shop. Many have listed their car as such a place. Once again, “If it’s stupid but works …”

After the client arrives at their answers, I ask the big question: “How are you doing working your system?” It doesn’t matter how many answers they came up with; it won’t mean a thing if they’re not doing it.

The work world tends to suck up people’s time and energies to the point they have little discretionary time, especially if they have families at home. But that does not mean we can’t do anything! If you are in a leadership role, you can help your people by emphasizing this. Talk about it weekly.

No one can do all their answers in a given week. But by diligent creativity and planning, anyone can make sure they are taking action to maintain themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically, even if a little bit at a time.

If you are a leader, your needs for self-maintenance are as great, if not greater, than those of your team. A leader who wears down pulls the team down with him. Make sure you are maintaining yourself so that you can be at your best and at full strength to lead others.

Provide sharp consistent focus

You can help your team by giving them perspectives that will keep them focused and on the right track. Of course, what I’m saying about serving your team are things I recommend you apply to yourself. Here are some ways.

  • Provide regular transparent communication

The last thing you want is to set off your team members’ imaginations. When people don’t know what is going on, they will typically imagine the worst. The best antidote is regular transparent communication. If you are authentic and tell what you know and don’t know, they will believe you and settle down to work.

  • Promote a long-term mentality with a present focus

You must keep reminding people to take the long-term viewpoint: “It’s not ‘how are we going to make it for the next two weeks?’ It’s ‘how are we going to persevere and perform for the next year and beyond?’” You must keep reminding people of this. The business world is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep the long journey in mind.

At the same time, you want to redirect your people’s thoughts back to the present. You want to promote a mentality that accepts the long-term nature of the race along with a focus on what we can do now.

  • Focus on what you can control, not on what you cannot

Under stress, people’s imaginations tend to wander off into fantasyland. Thinking about, worrying about, obsessing about what you have no control over is a waste of time and energy. One of best ways you can help your team is to keep reminding them of this and redirecting them to what they can do. You might find yourself repeating, “We can’t do anything about that. It’s outside of our control. What can we do?”

I believe the application of the above principles will help you, and help you lead your team through the demanding world of business ─ not merely to survive, but to thrive and be productive throughout this long journey. Li


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