The Role of the “Energy Sandwich” in Effective Leadership

What is an energy sandwich?

Over the last two years, leaders have needed to navigate the global pandemic, hybrid work environments and a long overdue focus on diversity and inclusion. Right now, I’m seeing a lot of leaders who are fatigued. As an Executive Coach and Organizational Development Specialist, I’ve been working with many leaders to implement solutions to manage this fatigue. In fact, a concept that I developed years ago is proving to be more valuable than ever when it comes to helping leaders navigate burn-out and have the energy to lead their organizations. This concept is the “energy sandwich.”

What is an energy sandwich?

Simply put, an energy sandwich refers to bookending difficult, draining activities with activities that are energizing. We all know that there are activities in our day that leave us feeling great or conversely feeling depleted. The more we engage in activities that drain us without “re-fueling our tanks”, the more likely we are to experience burn-out. When I learn that a client is feeling fatigued, I encourage them to have an energy sandwich, i.e., strategically schedule energizing activities around more taxing ones.

For example, someone might recognize that talking extensively or leading team meetings requires significant energy. Instead of scheduling those meetings back-to-back, I would encourage them to break those types of meetings up by having energy sandwiches. Planning for energy sandwiches is an important way to remain balanced amidst the more challenging tasks that still need to be accomplished.

How do we become aware of what tasks energize vs drain us?

Often, by the time someone has reached a leadership position, they know what they thrive off and what wears them out. However, I do know leaders who are used to pushing through all their tasks without giving thought to how they make them feel. In fact, I witnessed over the pandemic that this became more pervasive.

If you’ve lost track of what energizes vs. drains you, a good starting point is simply pausing as you move through your daily schedule to take stock of how you’re feeling. There are also assessment tools that can help with this.

In recent years, personality assessments, specifically strengths assessments, have become popular as tools for leadership development, improved communication, and organizational development. I also use a strengths assessment, but one that additionally identifies how people use their energy. Understanding the results of this strengths/energy assessment has enabled many of my clients to organize their time so that they show up to the task at hand with more energy and focus.

What are the longer-term benefits of energy sandwiches?

In short, there are many benefits. I introduced the concept of the energy sandwich years ago. Since then, I’ve witnessed the impact that a better-balanced workday can have on both the leader personally, and in their capacity to drive their organizations forward.

Simply stated, self-awareness regarding energy usage allows a leader to be more effective with their time and energy. When a leader manages their energy well not only are they able to avoid burn-out, but they also role model to the organization the importance of prioritizing wellbeing. This is more relevant than ever, given the stress organizations have faced over the last two years.

If you would like to speak with me about performing a strengths/energy assessment or if you would like me to speak to your organization about how to maximize strengths and energy, please feel free to contact me.

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