Peak performance

Join me as we explore my latest coaching insights.

While working with an executive coaching client facing a tricky change management situation, I came across Stop Overdoing Your Strengthsa telling HBR article by Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser. Kaplan’s and Kaiser’s messages about the dangers of over-doing your strengths as a leader are enduring, powerful truths. And their practical application helped my client see that the more forceful she became with her team, the less she succeeded in getting the results expected by the executive committee.

After writing Diminishing returns, a post about how executives can work less and produce more, I came across a brilliant exposition on the same topic. From Spain the prolific Jesus Gill Hernandez, wrote The Law of Diminishing Returns in January 2014. Jesus captures the essence of the insight this way "The ability to recognize the point of diminishing returns and cut off further activity from that point onwards can result in a huge benefits. These benefits can manifest in the form of increased productivity, fulfillment, happiness and vitality, depending on what area you are using it in."

The law of diminishing returns was distressingly evident in an interview with a young lawyer on the ABC's 7.30 report last week. Jerome Doraisamy, the subject of the interview and author of a book on his experience, was sharing his journey and recovery from debilitating depression. In doing so he was talking to every one of us. Being a high achiever is all very well, but not when the cost exceeds the returns. Being proud of being a workaholic may impress some colleagues. Badges of honour for being the last to leave the office are still prized. But the evidence is clear. As Harvard University researchers put it 'Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies'. In the language of this post: Long hours cause diminishing returns.

Take care of yourself

The common stereotype of senior executives working 60 hour weeks, not taking holidays, and enduring unhealthy levels of stress is well founded. Those fuelling this stereotype do indeed invest huge and unrelenting hours in being top performers. If you recognise yourself in this caricature, the personal price you are paying is very high. Executive life is widely and rightly regarded as tough. Witness the shortening tenures of CEOs in major corporations, the prevalence of stress and burnout, and the constant refrain “I never have enough time”. Ironically, you would be an even better performer if you invested your energy, not your time. In researching how to help a seriously stressed corporate executive, I recently dipped back into ‘The Power of Full Engagement’ by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr. Their research reveals that the old paradigm of being a better time manager is less helpful than a new way of thinking, namely managing your energy.

My first post of 2013 asked 'How often do you get lost in your work?'. In this post I drew on the work of Milhály Csíkszentmihályi in explaining how the idea of finding ‘flow’ can help you develop your career. In his latest book Flourish, Martin Seligman–of Authentic Happiness fame–expounds a theory of well-being. Reading Flourish reminded me of a very useful and relevant tool that Seligman makes freely available. One major component of well-being is being engaged and this, according to Seligman, is the same as being in flow. To help you explore how you can find flow in your work, I recommend you complete Seligman's Values in Action questionnaire.

I was privileged to be in the Sydney 2000 Olympics stadium the night Cathy Freeman won the 400m Gold Medal. It was an experience of a lifetime that still makes me feel at once overawed and exhilarated. Years later I heard Cathy speaking about her state of mind and body when she runs competitively: “I am swept along. My feet don’t touching the ground. There is no noise; sound is absent. I have a deep sense of detachment and contentment. In that moment everything is turned off.”

A distinguished blogger in Forbes magazine caught my attention with a topical and insightful way of thinking about what should mentoring mean for those 'stepping up' into leadership roles. As the recent epic struggles on the courts of the Australian Tennis Open dramatically demonstrated, competition brings out the best in a person in whatever she or he chooses to do. Using the Open as an analogy our blogger–Sydney Finkelstein, a professor of strategy and leadership at Tuck School of Business–questions the success of executive development in helping people 'step up'?