Improving 5 Areas of Leadership Through Better Fitness
The topic of leadership is nothing new to the world of business. If you’ve been in business for more than a couple of days, you’ve likely come across some form of leadership development program or book or mentor that’s ready to build you into the leader you’re meant to be.
However, as useful as many of these tools are, there is one area that is often overlooked when it comes to its impact on leadership, and that’s fitness. While your general idea of improving your fitness may not fit squarely into the idea of becoming a great leader, there are many attributes that are developed through proper physical training that can be directly linked to the abilities of leadership.
As you may well know, the qualities most sought after when it comes to leadership are the attributes of emotional intelligence, or EI. So, in order show how fitness makes you better leader, we’ll look at it through the lens of EI and see how 5 EI components can be improved by achieving better health. But, before we get to that, let’s a quick detour and see why NOT focusing on improving your fitness makes you a dissonant leader.
Becoming a Resonant Leader Through Better Health & Fitness
The term resonant is a word used to describe sound. It’s literal definition, thanks to the Oxford Dictionary, is “the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection” or, more specifically “by synchronous vibration”. It’s this second, more specific definition that we’re going to bring our attention to. The idea of having “synchronous vibration” can be easily linked to the relationship that a leader has with their team, followers, or clients.
However, what may not be so obvious is the “synchronous vibration” that a leader has with one self. While all good leaders who strive to be great are searching for improvement through the lens of the EI components we’ll talk about later, it doesn’t seem that those same leaders are looking at themselves AS A WHOLE and asking if they in “synchronous vibration”. In other words, are they not only walking the walk of better emotional intelligence, but are they also walking the walk of better physical health, better mental health, better relational health? Basically, are they fully RESONANT when it comes to embodying an all around great leader?
If the answer is “NO”, then, currently, the leader is showing a trend toward dissonant leadership. If you’re not taking care of your body, improving your sleep quality, keeping your mind at ease, and learning how to build strong relationships, then you’re doing your team, followers and clients a disservice. Because, if you’re skimping out on yourself, then you’re likely not bringing your best at every interaction. With that said, let’s look at 5 EI components and how they can be upleveled by focusing on your improving your health and fitness. This way you can start to move toward becoming a more resonant leader.
5 Leadership Competencies that Are Improved Through Better Fitness
In their great book, Primal Leadership, Daniel Coleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee break Emotional Intelligence into 4 domains: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. Each domain is then broken into competencies that a leader should focus on in order to improve their EI.
While there are certainly many more than 5 competencies, that’s the number that we’re going to focus on in order to show the relationship that better fitness has on leadership (otherwise, since I tend to be long-winded, we would be here all day). So, let’s get started on the first competency…
When it comes to the act of leading others, I imagine most leaders have a high self-confidence in that area. Whether or not this self-confidence is justified or not, it’s important to believe in your abilities if you want to be great in the domain of leadership.
However, from my experience, not many leaders have self-confidence in the domain of health and fitness. This is partly because they’ve put so much of their self-worth into being a great leader that they’ve overcompensated for what is lacking in their fitness. It’s also because, if you’re like 90% of the rest of the world, you’ve probably tried and failed at improving your fitness more than once. And while you may be great at leading a team, if you’re constantly failing at improving your fitness, it’s obvious you’re not great leading your health.
Since we tend to gravitate toward the things that make us feel good and away from the things that make us feel bad, fitness, then, gets left to the wayside in pursuit of the “more important” aspects of better leadership. However, in being in denial about your ability to improve your health, you’re leaving a HUGE amount of self-confidence on the table. Not only are you allowing your apparent lack of abilities to improve your health win, you’re also missing out on the proven benefits that exercise has on confidence.
It’s confidence-boosting powers can be seen as you start to see changes in your body, notice weight differences on the scale, get stronger in the weight room, run faster on the track, or swim further in the pool. No matter what form of exercise you partake in, as you improve, your self-confidence will increase. And that new-found confidence will leak into your leadership abilities.
#2) Emotional Self-Control
As the authors of Primal Leadership state, the competency of emotional self-control means to keep disruptive emotions and impulses under control. This is a tough competency for the average leader to manage in general. Since leaders tend to be self-driven, high standard type of people, they have a hard time understanding why other people can’t be that way as well (this, by the way, is another competency is empathy). And when an emotionally unstable leader sees someone who is lacking in the self-driven department, they may “fly off the handle” due to that persons apparent downfall.
While empathy is certainly necessary in this case, and many other cases like this, you also need to be able to keep yourself under control when you see an apparent “shortcoming” in someone else’s performance. This means being able to talk yourself off of a ledge and back into a calm state of mind. Exercise, especially in the form of resistance training, is proven to keep aggression as a form of “letting off steam”.
If you’ve ever had a workout where you felt like, by the end of it, all of your worries seemed much smaller all of the sudden, this is what I mean by “letting off steam”. The act of physically moving your body in an intense way helps to relieve the tension built up, both in your mind and in your physical body. Which is why exercise, especially resistance training, is great to improving your emotional self-control and moving you toward better leadership.
It doesn’t take long to understand why a leader is in the position they are in. If you look at their track record, it’s likely that you’ll find a list of accomplishments and achievements that have pushed them to the top of their field. But, excessive achievement typically leads to lack of achievement or neglect in other areas.
While it is absolutely necessary to focus on your given field and, as the saying goes, ignore everything else, that “everything else” can not include your health and fitness. It’s likely that you’re missing out on your true potential due to the lack of health.
Similar to what we talked about in self-confidence, as you grow in achievement in one area, you tend to gravitate your focus toward that area. Which means that things like your health and fitness, which we’ve already determined you’re likely bad at, get neglected. Yet, you’re not achieving in leadership BECAUSE you’re skimping on your health and fitness. You’re achieving in leadership DESPITE your lack of health and fitness. In other words, you absolutely would improve your current results if you had more energy, strength, stamina, and vitality. Which means you would be achieving greater in your leadership and your physical life, as well.
#4) Giving Great Service
As you well know, being a leader can be mentally and physically exhausting. Not only do you have to be physically capable of running around to meetings, traveling, and maintaining an overall high-level of energy throughout the day, you also have to be able to maintain quality focus, have high-level conversations, problem solve, and build relationships.
All of this takes energy. And, at the end of a long day, you can feel totally drained, even if all you’ve done is sit in meetings. It doesn’t require that you move around constantly to decrease your energy reserves. As you’ve felt, if you’re using your executive functions on a regular basis, this will also decrease your energy, sometimes more so than a good workout can.
Which is why you need to teach your body how to develop and maintain higher levels of energy throughout the day. In order to do that, your fitness has to improve. If you want to provide your followers, team and clients the best service possible, you need to improve your energy with better fitness.
I don’t have to tell you the proven benefits that exercise and movement have on energy, because you already know. However, if your energy is constantly low, then, again, you’re leaving potential on the table. And that’s unacceptable in the world of leadership greatness.
#5) Inspirational Leadership
Likely my favorite aspect of becoming a great leader us understanding what it takes to create, relay, and actualize a compelling vision of the future. This is exactly what it takes to keep others motivated to working long days and nights. As Ari Weinzweg puts it in his wonderful book, Being a Better Leader, a compelling vision answers a single, important question: if we’re really successful in our work, what will our organization look like “X” years from now?
While you might understand the concept of what it means to have a compelling vision, the question is, do you have the cognitive abilities to create the compelling vision in the first place? Not that I’m questioning your brain function or smarts by any means. What I’m asking is, is your brain functioning is such an optimal way that the vision you create is so compelling that it inspires yourself and those around you to push forward through good times and bad?
While a vision of “I want to change the world” seems exciting, there’s very little creativity, and absolutely no originality, in this idea. In order to improve your ability to think creativity and boost your cognitive abilities, increasing your fitness is going to be a necessity.
You see, the mind and body are inextricably linked. They are one. If you don’t move your body, the mind atrophies and functions at a lower capacity. Conversely, if you don’t move your mind, the body doesn’t know how to function properly, either. Therefore, if you want to optimize your brain function and improve your cognition, you should figure out a way to build regular movement into your day so that you’re constantly keeping your mind fresh and alert.
This will help you to not only create a compelling vision that inspires others to want to join your journey, but will also keep you sharp while you’re pushing forward, playing the long-game of making that vision a reality.
While there are many other attributes that are improved through better health and fitness, I hope that seeing the connection within these 5 competencies will help you see how your leadership abilities can grow exponentially. Remember that better fitness doesn’t mean taking multiple hours out of your day, 5 days a week to workout. Simply breaking up your movement into small, bite-sized chunks can go a long way in improving your fitness, expanding your energy, and making a more resonant leader.