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by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
Free Press, 2003
Review by David M. Wolf, M.A. on Jul 12th 2004

The Power of Full Engagement

    If it weren't for the ways our crazy world is skewed by corporate pressures, and organizational imperatives generally, it would only be common sense to adopt the rules and methods the authors provide in The Power of Full Engagement. But as things are, it has taken decades to finally bring forward a much-needed breakthrough in the management of the basic thing we all bring to work and to society: energy. This is a book worth owning and reading several times. Finally, researchers have seen and proved that human energy, not time, is the essential resource and the key limiting factor to growth and success. Don't just guard your energy, learn to build it and make it durable through this book.

    Year after year, we have been reading books in management and self-improvement that have focused on ideas and methods, but never on energy. We have read about time management, managing by objectives, doing more with less, management by walking around, keeping it simple, etc. We've been told in literally hundreds of differing (and repetitive) ways, that our "ideas" are what most matter if we seek success in any field or any venture, i.e., how we think, our attitudes, the facts we use, the methods we employ, etc.

    Every writer assumed we had enough energy, or if they didn't, they implied that changing our thinking would take care of the energy problem. Loehr and Schwartz have finally shown that these experts missed something essential.  You cannot manage what you don't have; you don't have enough good energy to win in corporate competition if you don't focus on managing the energy itself.

    Their program is not theory. They did the work with athletes, took their research program into corporations and offer many cases examples in the book to show that their approaches are factual and that they work. It's an exciting breakthrough discovery, and it will save lives and careers and help transform organizations if their approach is followed.

    I say "if" because, like any new regime, this approach will run into a set of corporate obstacles, principally the resistance of top management in finding and implementing these ideas. Some of what the authors advise, wise though it may be, will run right into the face of traditions in the workplace many are unwilling to change.

    The authors don't credit Aristotle anywhere for their work, but they are plainly applying one of his leading principles (in medio stat veritute, "virtue lies in the middle") when they lay out their own first principles early in the text. But they make the brilliant corrective, showing what the old principle really implies, that balance is not static--a middle, dead zone--but is found by balancing one extreme (stress) against the other (recovery). That's the key to full engagement.

     First, here are the author's four principles: 1) four related sources of energy are physical, emotional, mental, spiritual; 2) don't overuse or underuse energy, balance expenditure with renewal; 3) train like athletes; 4) keep positive energy rituals.

     American corporate people are burned-out energy junkies who don't know how to fully engage, because their energy has never been managed well (as athletes manage physical conditioning and preparation for competition).  What are they talking about when we get past the jargon about dynamics, and "rituals" and negativity, and balance, etc.?

    The authors are telling companies their workers are sleep-deprived, for one big thing. And knowledge workers need to sleep (recover) in order to work effectively (deliver). This is where top management is going to scream and pull some hair. Let my workers take naps at the computer?! Well, what else would the authors imply with a section titled, "A world hostile to rest" and a statement like this one (p. 39): "We must learn to establish stopping points in our days, inviolable times when we step off the track..." They go on about "shifting our attention" from information processing, but what is probably implicit in their approach is that people will need to take power naps at work if they really want peak performance.

    That's a tough sale on Wall Street, not mention in the management of medical interns (whom the authors discuss pp. 56-57 under "Circadians and Sleep.")

    So if there is a missing element in the book, it could be that they don't take on this old devil, "sleeping on the job" directly. They just give case examples of people with poor concentration, worklife imbalance, low tolerance for stress, and related problems that affect performance.

    This is far from saying the book is only about Americans' need for sleep in order to be fully engaged at work. The authors look at the spiritual and emotional sides of energy problems too, things that can't be solved by getting more sleep. But the key need for outright sleep and rest as a means toward peak performance are at the heart of this book and its approach--recovery at home long enough to count, recovery from long commutes, recovery at the desk, recovery every hour of every work day.

    The core of the work is that stress and recovery have to be done in balance and that it is necessary to plunge fully into both of these things and get out of the dead zone in the middle. Most performance in today's organizations is in this middle ground between rest and stress; but the high achievers work like hell and then collapse completely to recover completely, stretch their capacity enough to let it bounce back stronger the next time. Whereas, most workers and managers don't do either: they live and work in a zone of half-tired, half-dozing caused by our culture's ignorance of--and hostility toward--managing energy naturally and effectively.

    So, these then are the dynamics of full engagement the authors offer. They are brilliantly conceived, much needed, and could spell the difference to any organization that adopts their principles.

    The back end of the book is devoted to "The Training System" which are chapters that guide the reader to take action and get results. Attitude, rituals, daily tasks, diet, vision, purpose are analyzed and described. And a Summary of the Corporate Athlete caps it off, including some useful charts.



© 2004 David Wolf 


David M. Wolf, M.A. studied philosophy of science for the M.A. with Prof. David Hawkins at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and also read advanced philosophy at Trinity College Dublin. His undergraduate education in Philosophy was guided by Prof. Mason Gross. Wolf is certified in philosophic counseling with the American Philosophic Practitioners Assoc. and earns his living in management consulting, where he is distinguished in writing strategic plans and advising in organization development and career counseling.