What Healing Means for Human Energy
As we continue the discussion on what a new era of American politics would look like if healing were to occur, today we’re looking at practical wisdom for energy management.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe that promoting human flourishing in the workplace is part of our calling. To read more on this point, see my note at the end of this journal.
As we consider how to promote human flourishing in the workplace, the best ideas I have found and practiced are from The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
If American political culture is going to move into a new era, we should live the ideas in their book. While I could quote their work in its entirety, instead I will focus on three of their ideas that would radically renew life in politics if taken seriously.
Key Idea 1: “The most fundamental source of energy is physical.” (p. 198)
Note what the authors say about physical energy at the beginning of chapter four:
The importance of physical energy seems obvious for athletes, construction workers and farmers. Because the rest of us are evaluated more by what we do with our minds than with our bodies, we tend to discount the role that physical energy plays in performance. In most jobs, the physical body has been completely cut off from the performance equation. In reality, physical energy is the fundamental source of fuel, even if our work is almost completely sedentary. It not only lies at the heart of alertness and vitality but also affects our ability to manage our emotions, sustain concentration, think creatively, and even maintain our commitment to whatever mission we are on. Leaders and managers make a fundamental mistake when they assume that they can overlook the physical dimension of energy and still expect those who work for them to perform at their best. (p. 48).
Managing physical energy is discussed throughout the book with real life examples of clients who were struggling in their work. They implemented changes as suggested by the authors, and were able to reengage at deeper levels. It seems so painfully obvious, but if you’re running an organization, campaign, nonprofit, or congressional office with a team that’s sleep deprived, eating food with little nutritional value, out of shape, not exercising, not drinking enough water to stay hydrated, not stepping away from their desks at regular intervals for short periods of recovery—then your work is suffering, the efforts of your team are suffering, and you may be “fighting” for many things but human flourishing and freedom probably aren’t among them.
Does it really matter whose healthcare plan is implemented, where we can or can’t produce energy, and what the tax rates are if as a nation we aren’t taking the steps necessary to live at peak physical condition every day?
On this point, I know from personal experience the creative power that comes from stepping away from my desk every 90 minutes or so to walk outside, the creative focus learned from running five marathons that translates into work, and the creative ability that comes from both pushing myself physically and fueling my mind and body with nutrient-dense foods.
Key Idea 2: “The most significant source of energy is spiritual.” (p. 198).
The authors describe spiritual energy this way:
Spiritual energy is a unique force for action in all dimensions of our lives. It is the most powerful source of our motivation, perseverance and direction. We define “spiritual” not in the religious sense, but rather in more simple and elemental terms: the connection to a deeply held set of values and to a purpose beyond our self-interest. At the practical level, anything that ignites the human spirit serves to drive full engagement and to maximize performance in whatever mission we are on. (p. 110).
I believe that spiritual energy as they describe it here must be managed at both the organizational and individual levels in order for humans to be fully engaged and to thrive. If our political communication is solely a narrative about us vs them, or about our own agenda, then we’ll fail to give those around us any motivation to come to work each day. If there’s no vision, and no values in how we are going to achieve it, then the day-to-day tasks really are irrelevant and largely just making the culture more chaotic and depressing.
While we should advocate for a higher set of values as we have the ability and opportunity, we can also develop our own set of personal values. And I’ll be honest: I’ve been working on a list of personal values over the past few weeks, and reviewed my list before I started writing this journal. I’ve created two lists of seven values, one for myself and one for Liberatus organizationally, (a simplified version of our longer set of core values, or beliefs) and I’m excited to move ahead in 2017 with greater specificity on where I’m headed in life. I also think that my time on Capitol Hill would have been significantly more productive had I matured enough to write these down before I started working there—but it’s never too late to keep growing as a person.
Key Idea 3: Know your values and how you will live them.
There’s so much from the book that could be said on this point, but I’ll let you read it and discover it for yourself. I will add a few notes of my own, though:
–I think values are how you go about achieving your vision. And if you don’t know what either your vision or values are, there’s a simple question you can ask to discover them: what tension between what is and what could be is weighing on you heavily? In that space you will most likely find the answer.
–A clear set of values is also perhaps the best way to keep millennials engaged. The work doesn’t necessarily have to be super sexy, but if you can infuse it with a higher purpose than just that of being a political hack, then you’ll more likely empower those working around and under you to be fully engaged. I think there’s a huge opportunity here for older generations to connect with millennials. If they are astute, those who have been in the workplace longer should have a better knowledge of what’s broken and the prudent steps that need to be taken to fix it. As a new generation begins taking over business and politics, my hope is that the older generations are willing to take the risks necessary to help millennials change the culture in ways that would truly be life-giving.
–Finally, the world of politics is uniquely about values and ideas in a way that’s different from other workplaces. The primary responsibility of governance is to make wise choices, and that requires depth and insight and knowing the truth from lies, and being willing to accept paradox. Having a set of values will help you and your team navigate the work of governing with greater clarity.
What excites me about reading The Power of Full Engagement is that managing energy well is within reach! And while I believe human beings are incapable of creating a perfect world on our own, there is a way forward on the hardest days.
As followers of Jesus, our managing energy well in the workplace is about more than a neat vision statement or set of values on the office wall. It’s about learning to live the gospel where we are placed. At its foundation, it’s the call to love, and to follow the one who showed us how.
Liberatus—we are set free.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
Take the full engagement survey from the Human Performance Institute. In what areas can you become more fully engaged? What steps do you need to take over the coming months to get there?
If you want to go further with these ideas, read The Power of Full Engagement now at the outset of 2017 so it can guide you throughout the year.
A Note on Human Flourishing and Following Jesus
When we write about bringing Truth and Beauty to American politics, what we mean is that doing so would have practical life-giving changes for work culture, political communication, and personal well-being. However, for those transformations to occur, we have to change what we value: we have to want to live as free people. Until we realize to what extent we are not free, in a holistic sense, we will never want our values to change.
Truth and Beauty come from a real place, and I believe that place is the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s the only place that will have a perfect ruler – and until then, the good news is that we can follow Jesus to the eventual restoration of all things, culminating in a really big feast.
In the short-run, there is so much that is broken and needs repairing that it is overwhelming. In light of the magnitude of what needs to be restored in this world (and do we really need to articulate everything that needs to be restored in American politics?), too often those who claim to follow Jesus treat brokenness as something that is solved by keeping a list of rules, quietly waiting for a cosmic evacuation to occur, or going on a holy crusade against the “other.”
If followers of Jesus don’t have visions for human flourishing in their workplaces, then they don’t fully get how big the gospel is—and please don’t hear this sentence as shouting fueled by religious rule-following! What I am saying is that the gospel was never religious rule following or moralistic shouting—it’s just really, really good news. Truth that leads to human flourishing is part of the good news of Jesus’s call to abundant life. The one who called us to love others also created nutrient dense foods, became a human, and rested when he grew tired while doing restorative work.
Saying the gospel is good news for human flourishing is not the same thing as promising some sort of perfect “best life now.” Walk into any congressional office, and advocate for the idea that we should step away from our desks periodically to recharge, or love our neighbors as ourselves, including our political enemies—you will likely not receive immediate bliss in return! (And if you think the gospel is about “success,” please read Hebrews 11 before you define what success is).
But where there is truth that leads to human flourishing, followers of Jesus shouldn’t hesitate in bringing that goodness into their workplace. I believe the ideas and insight from years of work with clients that Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr present in their book would revitalize any dysfunctional workplace, and are therefore part of the same truth of abundant life, of loving our neighbors as ourselves, that Jesus called us to—not as our salvation, but as a result of the goodness of it.
Finally, I fully recognize that there are situations in life when human flourishing won’t happen by taking a quick break from your work every 90 minutes. It’s not as if refugees fleeing ISIS would flourish more fully if they did so! However, when we take the steps necessary to live life fully engaged, our ability to care for those fleeing ISIS will increase. Pain and suffering in the world don’t negate but rather necessitate taking steps to be fully engaged in restorative work.
Liberatus is a weekly journal about bringing Truth and Beauty to American politics, written by people on the inside. You can join the adventure by applying to write, subscribing to the journal, or by contributing monthly.
Journal Entry #99