The Complete Manager
By N Meenakshi, Associate Professor in Marketing at Goa Institute of Management
Yes, the title of this article does suggest that there are incomplete ones. Managers seek sustained high performance in the face of ever-increasing pressure and rapid changes in the environment. Most approaches to sustained high performance connects it primarily with cognitive capacity. However, a complete, successful approach to sustained high performance must consider a person as a whole - it must address the body, the emotions, the mind, and the spirit.
The body is the fundamental source of energy. The key to increasing physical strength is the creation of balanced work-rest ratios. For example, in weightlifting, a muscle is stressed to the point where its fibers start to break down. And then the muscle is allowed to rest for at least 48 hours. The muscle not only heals, but it also grows stronger. But, if an athlete persists in stressing the muscle without rest, his muscle will suffer acute and chronic damage. Conversely, if the muscle is not stressed, it will become weak. In both cases, the culprit is not stress - it is the failure to oscillate between stress and recovery.
Rituals play a strong role in recovery. For example, the best tennis players use precise recovery rituals in the 15 or 20 seconds between points. Their between-point rituals include concentrating on the strings of their rackets to avoid distraction, assuming a confident posture, and visualizing how they want the next point to play out. These rituals have strong physiological effects on players: their heart rate rises rapidly during play, but drops as much as 15 p.c. to 20 p.c. between points. The mental and emotional effects of precise between-points rituals are also significant. They allow players to avoid negative feelings, focus their minds, and prepare for the next point. In contrast, players who lack between-point rituals expend too much energy without recovery. Regardless of their talent or level of fitness, these players become more vulnerable to frustration and loss of concentration, and are likely to choke under pressure.
Managers push themselves too hard mentally and emotionally, but too little physically. They do not realize that physical stress is a source not just of greater endurance, but also of mental and emotional recovery.
Positive emotions drive high performance, while negative emotions drain energy. Negative emotions like frustration, impatience, anger, fear, resentment, and sadness increase heart rate and blood pressure, increase muscle tension, constrict vision, and ultimately cripple performance. For example, a manager worked long hours and traveled frequently. He was a critical boss, whose frustration and impatience sometimes boiled over into angry tirades. A regular workout regimen built his endurance and gave him a way to burn off tension. He also developed a precise five-step ritual to contain his negative emotions whenever they threatened to erupt. First, he became more aware of signals from his body that he was going to explode - a physical tension, a racing heart, tightness in his chest. When he felt those sensations rise, he closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. He then consciously relaxed the muscles in his face, and made an effort to soften his voice and speak more slowly. And then he tried to put himself in the shoes of the person who was going to be the target of his anger. Finally, he focused on framing his response in positive language. Initially, he felt awkward practicing the ritual, and often went back to his old ways. But, after a few weeks, the ritual became automatic.
There are a number of other rituals that help to offset feelings of stress and restore positive energy. For instance, music has powerful physiological and emotional effects.
Body language also affects emotions. In an experiment, actors were asked to portray anger and then were subjected to many physiological tests, including heart rate, blood pressure, core temperature, galvanic skin pressure, and hormone levels. Next, the actors were exposed to a situation that made them genuinely angry, and the same measurements were taken. There were virtually no differences in the two measurements. It means that effective acting produces the same physiology that real emotions do. Therefore, if a manager carries himself confidently, he will start to feel confident, even in highly stressful situations.
Close relationship is the most powerful means for promoting positive emotions and effective recovery. Spending time with family and friends induces a profound sense of security and safety. Such feelings are closely associated with sustained high performance. By spending more time with their families and friends and setting clear boundaries between work and home, managers will be reenergized and they will perform better at work.
The idea is to increase managers' cognitive capacities, most notably their focus, time management, and critical-thinking skills. Focus means concentrating energy in the pursuit of a goal. Anything that interferes with focus dissipates energy. Meditation helps to train attention and promote recovery. An adequate meditation technique involves sitting quietly and breathing deeply, repeating a word each time a breath is taken, or just counting each exhalation. Meditation quiets the mind, the emotions, and the body, promoting energy recovery. Meditation slows brain wave activity and stimulates a shift in mental activity from the left hemisphere of the brain to the right. People so often find solutions to vexing problems when they are doing something ‘mindless', such as walking, working in the garden, or singing in the shower. This happens due to mental oscillation, i.e. mental activity shifts from the left hemisphere of the brain to the right. Therefore, managers must learn to align their work with the body's need for breaks every 90 to 120 minutes by alternating periods of stress and recovery. For example, an investment banker used to working endless hours without breaks, built a set of rituals that ensured regular recovery. Once in the morning and again in the afternoon, he did deep-breathing exercises for at least 15 minutes. At lunch, he walked outdoors for 15 minutes. He took fruit and water breaks every 90 minutes. He worked out six times a week after work. In the evenings, he often left his office early to spend more time with his family. At home, he and his wife made a pact never to talk business. He decided not to work on weekends. He instituted a monthly getaway routine with his wife. The result: he was far more productive, and the quality of his thought process measurably improved. He was doing more on the big things at work and not getting bogged down by detail.
Rituals that encourage positive thinking also enable sustained high performance. People have to create specific mental rituals that allow them to move from peaks of concentration into valleys of relaxation. For example, a golfer sharpened his concentration as he walked onto the tee and steadily intensified his concentration until he hit his drive, but descended into a valley of relaxation as he left the tee through casual conversations with fellow competitors. Visualization also produces positive energy. Visualization does more than produce a vague feeling of optimism and well-being - it reprograms the neutral circuitry of the brain, directly improving performance. It builds mental muscles, increasing strength, endurance, and flexibility.
Spiritual capacity is the energy that is unleashed when a person taps into his deepest values, and when he discovers a strong sense of purpose. Spiritual capacity serves as a sustenance in the face of adversity and is a powerful source of motivation, focus, determination, and resilience. For example, a female executive tried unsuccessfully to quit smoking, blaming it on a lack of self-discipline. Smoking took a visible toll on her health and her productivity at work. But she quit smoking when she became pregnant and did not touch a cigarette until the day her child was born. Quitting was easy when she connected the impact of smoking to the health of her unborn child - a deeper purpose. She started smoking the day she was out of the hospital. Understanding cognitively that smoking was unhealthy, feeling guilty about it on an emotional level, and even experiencing its negative effects physically were insufficient motivations to change her behavior.
Making connections to one's deepest values requires a person to regularly step out of the daily chores of deadlines and obligations to take time for reflection. Managers keep doing whatever seems immediately pressing while losing sight of the bigger picture. Rituals that give people the opportunity to pause and look inside include meditation, journal writing, prayer, and service to others. Each of these activities also serve as a source of recovery, i.e. to break the linearity of relentless goal-oriented activity.
A complete manager is akin to an athlete giving his best performance. The ability to manage all four aspects of the self - body, emotions, mind, and spirit - will aid in optimizing performance.
Posted on 14th July 2017