Can Exercise Really Make You a Better Leader?

What does building your body have to do with building organizations and people?

After cultivating a life-long passion and habit for a fitness regimen as well as an always on, “watch-what-you-eat” discipline, let me give you my personal opinion in one word:

Everything.

Here’s the deal.  You can get the science-backed detail and the case for exercise anywhere on the internet.  Launch into a Google search for “why should I exercise” and see all of this.

Instead, let me outline some of the reasons why being fit will make you a better leader.

As an advisor helping top executives solve strategic growth challenges in their businesses and teams, I often find myself reminding leadership of the importance of personal and professional growth as a significant precursor to organization growth.  In other words, people growth drives business growth – not the reverse.

There is a ripple effect that personal growth has on the engagement, confidence and ambition that employees bring to their work.  Leadership is the spark to ALL of it.  If it’s not happening, recognized or talked about in your workplace, it’s on you.

A big piece of the puzzle in driving folks to own their personal development is encouraging an exchange of bad habits for good.  Exercise is an easy win.

If you’re driven to make a mark in leadership, here’s my case for why being fit will not only elevate your impact but fundamentally change the trajectory of growth for the people whom you lead:

It Creates Energy and Stamina.  Counterintuitively, you need to use energy to get more of it.  This is why a person who sleeps a lot can still complain of being tired.  After years of developing an afternoon exercise habit, I still find myself exercising at the end of the day.  I can feel tired enough at the end of the day to go right to sleep; however, after exercising, find it hard to get to sleep.  Exercise creates energy.  It makes a huge difference when you’re leading people and families, doesn’t it? 

It Fuels Focus.  In a world brimming with distraction and demands at every turn, there are very few activities left that allow a complete disconnect.  Exercise removes your mind from the screens, calls, and multi-tasking.  Quite amazingly, you’ll find your thoughts and focus during exercise settling on the most important priorities in your life.  This has happened to me countless times – when I start an exercise session, it’s not uncommon to have a mind racing with lots of to-do’s, tasks, worries, etc, only to see all of that whittled down to virtually nothing 30-45 minutes later.  Following exercise, I have a mind clear and focused, ready for action.

It Drives Confidence.  The most effective and influential leaders exude confidence. If we’re not confident in ourselves, it’s impossible to express or have confidence in others.  Being fit builds self-confidence and self-esteem.  Leaders with low self-esteem can bring a defensive posture, a failure to recognize others or encourage mistakes, as well as a curt tone that discourages idea sharing into the workplace, unknowingly stifling the growth of others.  As exercise begins to have positive change on our bodies, it shows up in the mirror and through compliments from those around you.  As you start to feel better about yourself, confidence shows up at home and in the office.  And so does a different attitude. This changes everything.  

It Unlocks Influence.  Exercise releases key hormones in your brain that reduce stress and anxiety.  We all have become accustomed to heavy bouts of daily stress which impact us personally, but more critically, the people around us.  As leaders, unmanaged stress can have adverse affect on our relational skills with people, detracting from our influence.  An exercise session can quickly deflate heavy stress, leaving you calm, cool and collected to be at your influential-best with people who matter.

It’s Contagious.  People who have successfully transformed their physical and emotional shape are admired, as it requires fortitude, discipline and perseverance.  The achievement alone can inspire others, but more importantly, it establishes an example for personal growth that others will aspire-to or want to follow.  As more people around you begin to latch onto a movement for better health, the accountability to a ‘new normal’ grows larger on the culture as a whole.

It’s a Spark to Creativity.  Hands-down, my very best thinking and idea time happens while exercising.  As mentioned above, exercise has an incredible releasing effect, helping us to de-stress and prioritize in our lives.  This calming and clearing-effect opens our minds and hearts to possibility-thinking which is a spark to creative ideas.  Imagine an entire workforce engaged in this mode of thinking!

It Triggers the Right Habits.  When hard work pays off, it’s rewarding.  Exercise is no different.  If you’re looking for a starting point to big change, exercise is it.  Building lean muscle mass and cardiovascular health is the sustainable path to long-term health.  As you begin to feel physically and emotionally transformed, the positive results hardwire exercise as a habit.  Generally speaking, we all want more of a good thing, right?  Exercise is a spark to other healthy habits; most commonly, better nutrition and eating habits.  Subconsciously, the more we exercise and improve our health, the less we want to do anything to damage the strong body we are building.  Very rarely do you see a person leaving a gym lighting a cigarette?  Could it be that a good habit can replace a bad habit?

It’s Not About Us.  Our bodies were designed for activity.  This is why they hurt, get sick, or are rendered immobile if we aren’t active enough.  You and I have been given only one body for the life and time we have here on earth.  You’ve also been called to be a leader over your organization and your family.  There are people everywhere who need you to lead them.  And that means you need to be here so you can lead them.  So, in the end, fitness is not really about us.  And…neither is leadership.  

If you’re already into being fit, you’re certainly enjoying the benefits that I mention above. If you’re not, what’s keeping you from getting started?

How valuable would it be to you to start a fitness program tomorrow?

Most importantly, what kind of leader might you become to the people in you’re life who matter most, at the office and at home?

You’ve been called.  They need you.  To be here.

Now – go be fit!

You’ll be glad you did.  And so will they.