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Career Coach: Restore your emotional energy

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By Joyce E.A. Russell
Monday, January 17, 2011

Last week I shared ideas from the "Full Engagement Training System" by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, about enhancing your physical energy. This week, I want to focus on one of the other aspects of energy to enhance: emotional energy. We often neglect this area, yet it is critical to our well-being at home and work.

You have probably heard about the importance of emotional intelligence (as known as EQ or EI) at work. Researchers have shown that leaders with higher EQ are generally more self-aware, more effective at managing their emotions, have better control over their impulses, have higher self-motivation and confidence, greater empathy for others and stronger interpersonal or social skills. All of this can be considered positive emotional energy.

And it doesn't impact only us. We know that the satisfaction and retention of employees is often related to how their direct supervisors treat them (see studies by the Gallup Organization for more details). Because our lives are filled with so many activities and stresses it is critical that we periodically renew and recover by building up our positive emotional energy. Negative emotions (anger, frustration, neglect, worry) drain our energy. If our physical energy is also low (from lack of sleep, dehydration, poor nutrition), this is just compounded. To strengthen emotional connections, engage in activities of enjoyment, challenge, adventure and opportunity. This builds self-confidence, self-control, interpersonal effectiveness and empathy. Thus, any activities that you find enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming serve as sources of emotional renewal and recovery.

When I coach executives I often ask them what they do for fun. Many of them will pause for some time and then realize that there are very few things they do just for the pleasure of doing them. If they are involved in fun activities, those are often centered around someone else -- for instance, coaching their child's soccer team. We have to carefully think about and build in time for fun for ourselves. If coaching is fun and makes you relax, then it probably is recharging your emotional energy. If, on the other hand (as I have often heard), coaching is stressful because so many parents are complaining to you, the kids are difficult to work with, the days are long or hot, don't count on it for emotional energy recharging. Find an additional thing to help restore your positive energy. It doesn't have to be time consuming -- remember that you are looking for quick ways to recharge. Maybe it involves listening to music, gardening for an hour, reading a novel, visiting a zoo or museum.

Another way to build up our emotional energy is to have meaningful connections or relationships with others. Often we feel that we are so busy doing things that we really don't have time to enjoy anyone's company, yet we know how important this is for ourselves and for the other person. When coaching executives, we talk about building closer relationships with employees -- showing them more individual consideration (whether that is through spending more time getting to know them, taking them to lunch, engaging in a social team bonding activity, etc.). What is important is feeling connected to others and having them feel connected to you. Just adding a one-hour lunch event with an employee once a week (and rotate it to include different people) or a one-hour play date with your child to play sports or games is all we are talking about. Adding any of these activities does take time, but building stronger connections with those around you builds up your positive emotional energy, which is related to an enhanced quality of life for you (and for them).

Restoring your emotional energy could mean getting involved in a cause that is important to you or giving back to others. Recently two of my MBA students, Saadat Khan and Nabeel Jawad, were generous enough with their time to visit a fourth-grade class to talk about their experiences in Pakistan. The children had just read "Three Cups of Tea," about Greg Mortenson's efforts to build schools in Pakistan, so they were curious to know what Pakistan was really like. Having the MBAs share their experiences with the 9- and 10-year-olds was a true win-win, and both groups enhanced their emotional connectedness and felt good about themselves. It made me realize that every day there are things we can do that can build our connections to others and make a difference.

Think about what you can do to enhance your emotional energy. Remember, if it feels like an obligation, then it probably is not recharging your positive energy. You need something that you look forward to doing and that enables you to disconnect from the daily stresses. Maybe you can think about things you used to love doing when you were younger and see if there is a way to bring them back. With that said, I'm off to play!

Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.


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