Define Potential Blog

Refresh, Re-energise and Renew –
Learnings from the Corporate Athlete



15 December 2021

With the chaos of 2021 behind us, I think everyone is looking forward to the holiday break. Time with family, friends, and some much-needed relaxation.

The past two years have been tough on many people. The surprising part is that some leaders have thrived through this period while others have really struggled.

So…. What makes the difference?

How can we support ourselves to succeed in an uncertain future?
How can we achieve our goals?
How can we sustain high levels of performance?

What if we focused on more than our cognitive capacity and instead, addressed our physical and emotional energy?
Loehr and Schwartz (2001) might have the unexpected answer.

In 2001, Loehr and Schwartz coined the phrase the ‘corporate athlete’ noting that leaders who thrive during unprecedented times have the mental, emotional, and physical strength to succeed. How? They found time to recover between work sprints.

The ‘real enemy of high performance’ (p.122) is not stress, as most of us would assume. Though sometimes hard to navigate, stress can actually be a stimulus for growth. The real problem keeping us from high performance is ‘the absence of disciplined, intermittent recovery’ (p.122).

Loehr and Schwartz (2001) believe that focusing only on energy output without taking time to recover keeps us from finding an ‘Ideal Performance State’ (p.122). To access this ideal state, we need to focus on building strong habits that grow our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual capacity. But what does that look like?

1. Building your physical capacity – like athletes, leaders spend a lot of time using their mental and emotional energy to deliver results. As a leader delivering results, you need to find time for physical renewal and recovery. This is where the importance of strong habits comes into play. The key is to oscillate between the heavy energy expenditure from various work tasks with moments of focused down-time. Be it the 5 minutes in between meetings to focus on your breath, a walk during lunchtime, a trip to the gym before or after work, healthy eating, or adequate sleep – by supporting your physical health as a leader you will have greater resilience and opportunity for recovery.

2. Building your emotional capacity – an important step to success is to become more aware of the emotions you are feeling and knowing how to manage them. You can short circuit reactivity by implementing habits that keep you from the downward slope. This might look like paying attention to your physical reactions during an emotional situation, making a point of breathing deeply, and choosing to speak more slowly. It may take time to adjust to this self-awareness, but it will ultimately lead to more positive interactions in the future.

3. Building your mental capacity – building your ability to focus, have better time management, and improving critical thinking skills all contribute to strong leadership. A great practice is to concentrate your energy on specific goals, take breaks every 90-120 minutes to refresh your thoughts, be mindful of the tasks you are doing, and practice meditation. Over the holiday period, take some time to yourself and engage with what you need.

4. Building your spiritual capacity – connect with your personal values, motivators and drivers. Re-energise by connecting with your purpose and your ‘why’. This will allow you to focus on cementing practices and making much needed changes that point you toward achieving your best work-life balance.

In summary, athletes are known for their abilities to achieve peak performance, and recovery is a key aspect of their training. So how can we actively recover during a time of immense stress? Take time out for yourself over the holiday period, connect with family and friends, and explore your personal drivers.

Refresh, Re-energise, and Renew. Welcome 2022 with a renewed focus on yourself, your development, and that of your teams and colleagues.

As part of your renewed focus, consider investing in your own development and wellbeing by attending one of our leadership development programs. Our courses give you the chance to refresh your skills, renew your thinking, and re-energise as you explore and expand your leadership potential:

Jane MarburgManaging Director, Define Potential

Jane has worked within the HR consultancy, general management and business development fields for the past seventeen years developing an excellent understanding of leadership, management and recruitment issues within the Australian Public Sector (APS).

Jane is a highly-experienced leader with extensive project management and contract management experience. Over a number of years, she was the contract manager for a large number of APS recruitment, learning and development panels, including the Australian Public Service Commission Recruitment, Learning and Development Panel and the Department of Industry panel.


Loehr, J. and Schwartz, T., 2001. The making of a corporate athlete. Harvard business review, 79(1), pp.120-129.


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