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