J.Urgen Klopp is a football coach. This means there is a limit to what he can teach business leaders about how to do their jobs. Company leaders tend not to step into the shoes of their managers' parents, give people hugs after a successful meeting, or use gegenpressing technique against rivals. But Mr Klopp has lifted the lid on a crucial ingredient for success in almost every area of life: energy.
To everyone's surprise, Mr Klopp announced on January 26 that he would step down as manager of Liverpool Football Club later this year. His team leads the English Premier League, the most watched competition in the world's most popular sport. His job is secure – his contract doesn't expire until 2026 – and he still claims to love her. But after eight years in this position, and more as a manager, he is running out of energy. Its resources are limited, he says. “I can’t do it on three wheels, I don’t want to be a passenger.”
Mr Klopp is not the first high-profile figure to make this kind of decision. Jacinda Ardern resigned as Prime Minister of New Zealand in January 2023, saying she no longer had enough resources to do the job. Jeff Kindler spoke about the extreme demands of his role when he stepped down as boss of Pfizer, a drugmaker, in 2010, saying he was looking forward to recharging his batteries. But such admissions are nevertheless rare from a person leading an organization.
Because energy is one of those factors that reliably differentiates bosses from those below them. Ability, ambition and luck all play an important role in climbing the fat pole. But energy plays a key role. Top performers did their email and a full workout before sunrise. They don't cancel breakfasts because they feel a little tired; They certainly don't admit it. They are less likely to fall asleep mid-afternoon. They no longer have red eyes and are working normally.
And it's just going up. Talk to people who have taken the plunge CEO and they will frequently comment on the intensity of the work and the difficulty of switching off. Most organizations are pyramids. As decisions become more difficult and important, they land on fewer and fewer individuals. And as these characters become more prominent, the number of people wanting to see them increases.
The boss has to show his face to employees regularly, and it can't be the face of someone who looks like he hasn't slept in two weeks. They have to host the board, meet investors, attend countless networking events, and take the time to actually work. It’s exhausting to contemplate, let alone do.
The physical demands of heavy work mean that certain types of people have an advantage over others. It helps that it doesn't have too many other calls on your time, which tends to be bad news for women, who take on more housework and care work at home than men.
Extroversion packs an advantage in terms of oomph. An investigation into CEO A 2017 time use study, conducted by Oriana Bandiera of the London School of Economics and her co-authors, found that bosses spend 70% of their time interacting with colleagues, clients, and more. If you're the type of person who gets energy from spending time with other people, it's like having a phone charging all the time. If you're an introvert and other people are running low, your battery will be close to 1% and it's only a matter of time before you shut down completely.
Some lucky people naturally have more zip. These are the mitochondria CEOPeople who can get by on three hours of sleep and who don't know what it's like to fumble for the snooze button. But if you haven't won the biological lottery, you can still determine what invigorates and what annoys. This might mean exercising at dawn, taking afternoon naps, or simply protecting your calendar; When he ran Amazon, Jeff Bezos aimed for eight hours of sleep a night and tried not to schedule meetings before 10 a.m. This means prioritizing rest over getting by with less. In their book “The Mind of a Leader,” Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter found that executives were likely to sleep more than non-executives.
Admitting his energy reserves are now running low, Mr Klopp provided an unusual reminder of how taxing leadership roles can be. His decision to hang up his Liverpool tracksuit recalls the aphorism of another great football manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. Hard work is a talent, Sir Alex liked to say. But it’s also just plain hard. ■
Read more from Bartleby, our management and work columnist:
Why you should never retire (January 25)
Companies run at their annual pace (January 18)
When your colleagues are also your rivals (January 11)
Also: How Bartleby Column got its name