In December 2010, Jeff Kindler, the chief executive of Pfizer, resigned abruptly, citing exhaustion as one of the main reasons behind his decision.
In today's world of 24/7 connectivity, dedicated managers and employees on all rungs of the corporate ladder may easily empathize.
Putting in hours of desk time and smartphone time means that many employees rarely get to disconnect from their work properly.
Despite the apparent convenience of round-the-clock connectivity, workplace stress often increases, the quality of work suffers, and innovation and creativity are stifled.
In their paper, "Towards Whole Person Learning Through Sustainable Executive Performance," IESE's Steven P. MacGregor and Katherine Semler, program director at Telefonica Universitas, explore how personal sustainability management could change work cultures.
The Hazards of a Desk Job
Recent cardiovascular research has found that holding a desk job is one of the most dangerous things you can do. A sedentary, information-overloaded, 24/7 lifestyle is hazardous to one's health, and by association hazardous to the health of an organization.
Rather than jeopardizing health, workplaces should nurture innovation and support optimal performance. A corporate culture that treats its employees more like people instead of machines can help to boost a firm's level of innovation and sustainable competitiveness, the authors claim.
Management education and training can play an important role in nurturing leaders who follow this line of thinking, through the inclusion of sustainable executive performance (SEP).
Beyond the Case Method
Over the years, management education has integrated more creative components to stimulate cognitive activity and maximize the learning experience, such as the case method, action-based learning and simulation games.
However, to support sustainable leaders, the authors say that management education must engage participants on several intertwining levels -- intellectual, behavioral, social and physiological.
The desired result is learning, reflection and change, which in turn helps spur a much-improved "sustained leader performance" that can benefit individuals, companies and society at large.
From Maslow to Smartphones
SEP principles stem from the notion that basic human needs are often compromised within the professional domain, with detrimental effects on health, well-being and ultimately performance. In the same way that athletes take care of their whole self to be at their best, so too should "corporate athletes."
Ever since Maslow articulated his hierarchy of human needs, mental performance has been seen to be dependent on physical states; creativity and problem solving come only after meeting the need for essentials such as food, water and sleep.
Applied to today's round-the-clock lifestyles, the authors cite recent research demonstrating the need for people to unplug from digital devices and improve their physical fitness in order to increase cognitive performance.
This research, together with the authors' experience in management education programs, became the basis for the current model.
Delivered in a layered fashion, the program is based on the following five elements, which take the whole person into account.
1. Move: incorporates physical movement and mobility, helping combat the negative effects of sedentary lifestyles.
2. Recover: includes physical and mental practices that can be complemented within the workplace and at home.
3. Fuel: involves not only nutrition, but all energy sources that fuel performance and sustain action over the longer term.
4. Focus: considers the appropriate use of technology and overall approach to work for high performance.
5. Train: addresses different ways of incorporating physical fitness into busy lives.
A New Generation of Leaders
The authors have positive experiences of delivering SEP in several custom and executive education programs with companies such as Rabobank, Nestlé and Oracle.
With the sustainability of the individual as their core focus, they continue to fine-tune the program, in order to contribute to new learning methodologies and emerging workspaces of the future.
Sustainable leaders, they say, should be capable of taking the long-term view of their own performance and position within a firm.
From sustainable leaders come sustainable and responsible companies, which understand their wider responsibilities and place within society at large.