WHAT IKE EISENHOWER CAN TEACH US ABOUT REST AND RECOVERY
We’re two months away from Christmas, the busiest time of year for most business owners. Not just because Q4 is when many of us make a significant proportion of our sales. But it’s also when we’re planning our own festive celebrations. So why am I writing an article about rest and recovery at such a busy time of the year?
The answer is simple. At such a hectic time of year, we’re more likely to feel emotionally exhausted and be at risk of burnout if we don’t schedule time for regular rest and recovery into our days and weeks.
The story of how celebrated US General and former President Ike Eisenhower created space for rest and recovery offers us some fascinating insights into how we too can build recovery time into our schedules while still operating at full tilt in our businesses.
On 6 June 1944, Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, signalling the beginning of the end of WW2. Code-named Operation Overlord, this was the first stage in the liberation of Western Europe and a major step towards the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Extensive planning began in 1943, and General Ike Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of the operation. Operation Overlord was an intricate operation which brought together the land, sea and air forces of the USA, Britain, Canada and other allies. It required extensive planning and preparation, a process not made easier by political and strategic arguments with Stalin and disagreements between the Americans and British.
We can only imagine the stress Eisenhower was under, and the anxiety he must have experienced. The consequences of failure are too awful to imagine. So how was Eisenhower able to manage such a complex and high-stakes operation?
Fortunately we know a lot about Eisenhower’s wartime habits because his naval aide and former journalist, Harry Butcher, maintained a journal throughout. While planning Operation Overlord, Eisenhower would retreat to Telegraph Cottage, a small, secluded house situated on the outskirts of leafy Richmond and close to Richmond Park.
Eisenhower first started staying at Telegraph Cottage in 1942, when planning Operation Torch, the US invasion of North Africa. Frequently working 15 to 18 hour days, Eisenhower had, according to Butcher’s journal, become a man “whose problems frequently [kept] him awake at night.” Recognising that he couldn’t go on like this, Eisenhower ordered Butcher to find him a hideout so he could escape what he described as “the four forbidding walls of the Dorchester” (a very grand London hotel).
There Eisenhower would play bridge, paint, read cowboy novels, play golf and go riding in nearby Richmond Park. Shop talk was forbidden, and only a handful of people outside his immediate staff knew he stayed there. Later, his driver said: “If anything saved him from a mental crack-up, it was Telegraph Cottage and the new life it provided.”
What leadership and business lessons can we draw from Telegraph Cottage?
Research by German sociologist Sabine Sonnentag offers answers to this question. Over the course of her studies, Sonnentag discovered that there are four main factors that contribute to recovery: relaxation, control, mastery experiences and mental detachment from work. Breaks, like the ones Eisenhower took at Telegraph Cottage are rich in all four factors and confer the greatest benefits.
Let’s look at each factor in a little more detail.
Relaxation is any activity that is pleasant and undemanding. It doesn’t have to be totally passive like watching a film or reading a book, but it shouldn’t feel like work or require conscious effort. Yoga fits into this category for me, especially if I choose a more restorative practice.
Control is an interesting one. This is about deciding how you spend your time, energy and attention. For people who feel they don’t have a lot of control over their time, control can be restorative. When I left my CEO role, one of the key reasons I chose to start a business rather than move to another CEO role was the desire for greater control over my time.
Mastery experiences are engaging, interesting and mentally absorbing experiences that you do well, or are in the process of learning. For people starting or running businesses, mastery experiences are important as they reinforce our self-esteem. Dancing and tennis are examples of mastery experiences I enjoy. I’m always looking to develop a higher level of mastery in both, but I also find these activities effortlessly absorbing and relaxing.
Detachment, the ability to feel disconnected from our business and escape work-related interruptions, is an important factor when it comes to determining how much we recover during breaks. Disconnecting from social media and email in the evenings and on weekends is one way of detaching from your business. Regular weekends away - in addition to regular holidays - is another. That’s why I’m making it a habit to go away every month, even if it’s just overnight. Because I know the detachment that comes from ‘getting away’ promotes greater mental recovery.
Going back to our example of Eisenhower, we can see how Telegraph Cottage played such an important role in helping him recover from the pressures of leading high-stakes operations like Operation Overlord and Operation Torch. The cottage provided him with a space where he could relax by reading cowboy novels and riding in the woodland. It gave him rare control over his time. He was able to exercise mastery in bridge, a game he played brilliantly. And he was able to detach from work in a peaceful environment where the ravages of war seemed far away.
We live in an era where we’re connected to our businesses day and night through mobile technologies. The boundaries between business and life are often blurred. And it can be hard to take time off, especially in the early days when money is tight. But if we want to avoid the negative effects of burnout, it’s essential we leave the cares and pressures of our business behind, however positive they are and build rest and recovery into our routines.
Question: Which ways of resting and recovery do you find most effective and why? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share let me know in the comments box below.
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