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How Leaders Sustain Physical, Mental and Emotional Toughness

Most of us know the importance of recovery in the physical realm.  We exercise our muscles, then allow a period of recovery in order to maximize the strength gains.  We expend significant energy over the course of a day and then recover by eating and emotional leadershipsleeping.  We work hard during the week and recover on the weekend by relaxing and having fun.  Even if we don’t always follow these principles, we know they contribute to our physical well-being.  In the mental realm, the benefits of sustained focus followed by periods of recovery also seem fairly apparent.

Emotional Recover For Leaders

What’s not so obvious–or hasn’t been to me until recently–is the importance of emotional recovery.  Maybe we’re not used to thinking of emotional strength as something that can be developed through training.  “He’s an anxious person,”  “She’s so thin skinned” suggest that emotional toughness is something that’s either part of your personality or not.

Physical, Mental, and Emotional Leadership

In his classic 1993 book, Toughness Training for Life, Jim Loehr suggests that all three kinds of toughness–physical, mental and emotional–can be developed through the deliberate cycle of applying stress (challenge) followed by periods of recovery.  While we might need to intentionally seek out physical and mental challenges, in the emotional realm few of us have to go looking for stress.  What we need to increase are deliberate periods of emotional recovery that can punctuate the never-ending onslaught of stress.

Do you know what helps you recover emotionally?  How do you feel and how do you behave when you’re in need of emotional recovery?  What does it feel like to be emotionally recovered?  It’s only recently that I’ve been paying attention to these things.

Leadership Patterns in Stress

Ever since I can remember, my pattern has been to “power through” the stressful periods in my life.  Even when I had choices, I would usually pile on the stressors, assuming that I’d be able to maintain the same intense pace through sheer will power.  In the language of athletic training, I’ve been overtraining for most of my life.  It’s not working for me anymore, so I’ve begun paying attention to the questions above. And it’s calling for greater awareness of how I schedule my time, who I spend with, and what I agree to do. If cultivating emotional recovery is something you are exploring, let me know what you’re learning! I have no doubt that it’s a practice many of us could strengthen.

You can also take a look at another useful book I’m currently reading: Peak Performance, by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

About the Author

Deborah Reidy is the founder and president of Reidy Associates, a coaching and consulting service established in 1996. Reidy Associates works with nonprofit, government, and industry leaders to help them create cultures that encourage inspiration, accountability, and results.

She holds a MEd in Adult Education and a  Professional Certified Coach (PCC) designation from the International Coach Federation.

In 2012, she published a book on leadership for families of people with disabilities entitled Why Not Lead?, based on her highly successful leadership development programs. She also blogs regularly on leadership topics.  Deborah and her husband Jim live in Southampton and Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.


She’s just launched an online leadership development site called Grow to Lead.  For more information, check out her website, Linkedin or Facebook.




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