Renewal: Creating and Sustaining Energy To Do Meaningful Work

| July 16, 2012 | 0 Comments

(C)Elle Allison, PhD., 2012

Energy is defined in physics as “the capacity to do work.” In the life and work of a human being, renewal is the means to create energy for passionate action. Renewal is like taking a breath: it prevents the build up of toxic emotions and energies. While renewal does not eliminate the demands of life and work, it does provide energy for individuals, teams, and systems to remain creative and relevant while meeting those demands. Renewal creates interludes: time where your brain can literally go “right” (instead of spinning in left brain) and think more creatively–even about complex problems.

It may surprise you to learn that leaders of sustainable change who do meaningful work and make a difference in their organizations, engage in regular renewal. For example, a 2009 study from the Center for Creative Leadership finds that many high-flying founders and executives also engage in regular physical exercise. The average person might wonder, “how do these mega energized men and women have time to build successful companies and hit the gym?” Clearly, the leaders in this study are constitutionally wired to gain renewal from engaging in physical activity, which they use to fuel their work. Other leaders may gain the same kind of energy from cooking, gardening, seeing all the Sundance Film Festival films, rescuing greyhound dogs, or dressing up as Brad Majors, the hero from Rocky Horror Picture Show and attending weekly midnight screenings. No matter what personal renewal leaders take part in, the most important thing is that they use the resulting energy to “show up” for their life and take advantage of all of the opportunities and challenges that life brings.

Be a Leader, Not a Loser

Lest you think that renewal is optional, a luxury for leaders who are not as “busy” as you are, consider the fact that most people think that “burnout” is the leading cause of employee disengagement. Then consider these startling findings from the 2007–08 Towers Perrin Survey of nearly 90,000 employees worldwide: “Only 21% of us– 1 out of every 5 – feel fully engaged at work.” 41% are enrolled but not engaged (doing the work but not emotionally connected to it). 30% are disenchanted (partially disengaged-especially low on emotional engagement) and 8% are fully disengaged emotionally, rationally and motivationally. Finally, comtemplate the observations of Ralph Keeney whose research reveals an increase (from 5% in 1900 to 55% in 2000) in premature deaths of people aged 15–64 due to poor personal choices such as over eating, smoking, unsafe sex, sedentary lifestyle, and driving without a seatbelt. Dan Airely presents Keeney’s research in his book Predictably Irrational, and includes the estimation that “. . .about half of us will make a lifestyle decision that will lead us to an early grave” (p. 166).

On the Job Renewal

Given the importance of renewal to innovative and meaningful work, I find it exciting to understand what organizations can do to promote and support renewal on the job. Once again, I’m not talking about indulgences that masquerade as renewal but ultimately diminish energy–things like long lunches and breaks, idle chit chat and gossip, surfing the internet, or loading the work lounge with snacks. These are all things that break concentration on important work, prevent people from accomplishing tasks on their “to do” list, make you gain weight and feel tired, undermine important work relationships, and cause you to go home later in the day and have to take work home on the weekend. I don’t know about you, but none of these side effects sound good to me! Instead, I’m looking at renewal strategies to inspire people, build relationships around important work, reveal what is working and what can be learned from what is not working, create hope and celebrate wins toward important goals. Here are some ways to build in on the job renewal that help you use the work day to stay focused on meaningful work:

1. Eat lunch with someone who will listen as you describe something you love about your work. Limit lunch to one hour. stay focused; no gossip.

2. Take an aspiring leader to lunch with the specific intent to listen to them describe what they think is possible in their work.  Limit lunch to one hour. stay focused; no gossip.

3. Interview a stakeholder or co-worker about something your organization did for them. Take their picture and put it in a scrapbook along with a couple of sentences from the conversation. Later, when you need renewal and inspiration, have a cup of coffee or tea and thumb through the scrap book.

4. Walk down the hall and ask one or two people to tell you what they’ve learned today. Be sure to tell them that the reason you are asking this question is so you can feel renewed. This will make people more forthcoming because they want to be of support to you.

5. Make a 10 minute renewal date with someone you work with. When you meet up, tell your co-worker about your “favorite mistake”—something related to your meaningful work that might have gone wrong, but that taught you the most valuable lesson.

6. Make a list of the decisions facing you over the next 12 months. Then make another list of the data you’ll look at (including surveys, focus groups, trend data, quarterly data) for each decision. Notice the overlap and do a happy dance about that. You see, complex decisions usually have systemic connections, so you can leverage information that helps with one decision, to another decision.

7. Schedule a coaching session with someone you work with who has great coaching skills and will ask you the kind of thought leadership questions that create breakthroughs in your thinking. Send them a thank you card afterward with an invitation to reciprocate. Managers and supervisors who coach their colleagues and direct reports learn more about the work of others and gain insight into the whole system.

8. Write a thank you note to someone for something they allowed you to do to make the organization better. Deliver it to them in person if you can. They may be perplexed at first, “Say what? You’re thanking me for something you did?” Tell them you are thanking them because they gave you the chance to lead and grow.

9. Make a cup of green tea or other beverage of your choice (hold the wine until after work hours!), pick up one of your “go to” professional journals that you never get to read and skim the table of contents, looking for something that sparks your curiosity. Make one copy of the article, bring it to a colleague, ask him or her to meet you for lunch or a break where you can read it together and talk about it. Your colleague gets to pick the article the next time.

10. Review key indicators for a project you are leading. Get a poster sheet and markers and represent the data in a format you’ve never considered before. Note your insights and share them with your team.

What I’m hoping is obvious to you about these examples of on-the-job-renewal is that they all leverage leadership characteristics such as relationships, reciprocity, resonance, resilience, optimism, and wise decision making, that keep work meaningful, relevant and sustainable. Not only that, they won’t make you fat, tired or late getting home!

If you try some of these ideas out, I’d love to hear how they worked for you. Go ahead and respond to this post or send me an email at

Take care,




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Category: BLOG, Wisdom in Leadership, Wisdom in Organizations

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