Leaders need to pay attention to their physical fitness. It’s that simple. There is a direct link between one’s fitness and their ability to lead, yet so many of us are struggling with our fitness and whether or not we care to admit it, it’s having a profound impact on our performance at work and at home. This doesn’t mean that we all need to be world-class marathon runners, but we do need to be constantly working to maintain and improve our bodies and health so that we can better serve our teams. When we pursue excellence, that means that push ourselves to be an exceedingly high bar in all facets of our lives. We can’t find excellence in one area and neglect others. That’s an imbalanced approach that will hurt us down the road. For most, their own fitness is the area neglected most.
We only get one life to live, and one body with which to live it. There’s obviously a clear link between our physical health and the quality and length of our life, so we should do everything we can to protect it. Leaders don’t run from problems. They tackle them head-on. Maybe you’re not in good shape now. That’s fine. We all have to start somewhere. Maybe there are issues outside of your control. No problem, do what you can. The point is that we need to control what we can to take care of our bodies so that we can be the best version of ourselves.
Why Fitness Matters in Leaders
Leaders that make a point to take care of themselves and their bodies send strong signals to their team. Most significant among these is discipline which is a cornerstone of leadership. It shows that you can make yourself make the hard decisions. People want to follow someone that has that ability.
It also provides and signals reliability and resilience. By maintaining your fitness you show your team that you’re doing what it takes to be present each and every day. We talk a lot about leaders needing to be present to lead, and this ensures that you’ll be present as much as possible and able to manage the daily grind of work.
As a leader, we always have to operate with the responsibility of our team’s wellness in mind. If we’re not taking care of our health, we’re setting an example for out team that they will likely follow. We want the best for our people, so we need to make sure that we take that responsibility to heart and always be the example our team needs.
How Fitness Improves Leaders
Taking care of your health as a leader isn’t just about sending signals to your team; it gives you superpower to improve the way you lead. The more fit you are, the more energy you have, the more resilient you are, and the more mental clarity you have. The scary thing about each of these is that you don’t know how badly you need them until they’re gone. That’s why we have to be so proactive about our fitness.
Being proactive about fitness likely saved my life nearly a decade ago. I was racing Ironman triathlons at the time while working at The Walt Disney Company. On a training ride, I was hit by a car that ran a stoplight and left with a traumatic brain injury. In the years to come, it was my fitness from racing Ironman that not only protected my body from more significant damage, but also helped me to expedite my recovery. Don’t fall into the trap of seeking fitness when it’s gone and you need it most. Build the proverbial ark before the storm.
When dealing with sickness or injury, it’s important to simply do what you can. I’m in this boat right now. 6 weeks ago I ruptured a disc in my neck while training Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu. I was unable to walk for a bit, and still don’t have feeling in one of my arms. That, however, doesn’t mean that I can’t do sets of air squats and lunges throughout the day, and that I can’t get out of the office to hike for an hour each afternoon. You have to make it a priority. It may not be perfect, but you have to do something.
Mitigate the Excuses
So what’s our excuse? For many, time pressure causes workouts to fall to the wayside. So make more time. Get up earlier. Set your alarm and start your day by doing perhaps the most important thing that you can. Others struggle with willpower. Find a friend and hold each other accountable via text or email. If nothing else, look at picture of your family and remember that you’re working out for them, so that you can be around for them for a long time.
A few years back, our identical twin boys were born prematurely with heart problems. That began a stressful three month NICU stay for them that included long hours and hospital overnights, complicated by a demanding work schedule for both my wife and myself. In situations like this, the workouts are usually the first thing to get pushed to the side. It’s totally understandable, but skipping one workout easily leads to two, then five, then ten. Before you know it, you’re out of shape and struggling to play a leadership role within your own family.
At the time, I focused on being very deliberate with working out, because I knew that by maintaining fitness, I’d think a lot more clearly and make better decisions under stress; decisions that would impact our children’s lives very substantially. By making the time to workout, I was essentially investing in time that would pay off 10x in that situation. I’d sneak workouts in whenever I could. They weren’t always typical workouts; I’d bring a TRX to the hospital or find different ways to do pull-ups or dips on whatever furniture was available. The point is that I found ways to make it happen so I could better serve my family.
You don’t need to race Ironman or run a 4 minute mile to accomplish what were talking about here, but you need to ensure that you’re allowing yourself to have maximum energy for daily tasks and that your health will be there for the long-term. So how can you get started? Do something – anything. If you’re struggling, stand up at your desk right now and do air squats or lunges. Pack a TRX in your briefcase to take to work or on business trips. Additionally, running shoes are the easiest thing to pack on a business trip – a time when many of us struggle with fitness the most with boozy dinners and poor food choices.
It also helps to find a new passion: hiking, cycling, Brazillian Jiu Jitsu – the more immersive the better, especially if it’s competitive as it will make you a more well-rounded leader. Lastly, measure your fitness however you can. It may not be fun to step on the scale, but you’ve got to know where you’re at and keep track of your progress. Remember, leaders don’t run from problems or the truth, we attack it.
Our fitness is not just about workouts though, we must also be fueling our body with quality foods. Plan ahead: prepare healthy food ahead of time so you don’t find yourself in a pinch making bad diet decisions. There are plenty of diets out there: find what works for you and gives you the best chance to succeed. I’ve also found success with supplements. In addition to the protein powder that I use, I’ve found Krill Oil helps keep my body running smoothly, MCT Oil helps burn fat and improve cognitive performance, and Onnit’s Alpha Brain along with Ginko Biloba helps with mental clarity. The more diligently you approach your fitness, the more directly you can impact your team as a leader.
We talk about setting goals and working with the end in mind – that’s not possible if we’re dead. Make sure you’re here for the long-term: for your family and for your team. Invest in your health and prioritize it so that you can be the leader you need to be. Better yet, focus on being someone that your team will look up to so that they to can make an impact as a leader.