Many people have embraced the importance of maintaining their physical fitness as part of their total health and overall wellbeing. Fitness is viewed as a great outlet to relieve stress and is a source of energy, time for reflection, and opportunity for personal accomplishment. There’s no denying the physical, mental, and even emotional benefits.
Professionally, I have dedicated my career to learning and leadership development – to helping people achieve their greatest potential. Personally, I have adopted a more fit lifestyle and incorporate a variety of fitness activities into my regular routine. Over time and with commitment, I have gravitated toward endurance events and completed multiple marathons and ironman triathlons. Training is imperative to complete these events.
Don’t worry. I am not here to pressure you into exercising more. Your physical fitness is a highly personal decision. Your leadership fitness is a different story. With leadership, the stakes are much higher and many others rely on you to be as fit as possible.
Recently, while out on a long run, I began to draw some important parallels between physical fitness and leadership fitness. Both are journeys into self-discovery, and they require commitment, passion, and self-awareness. To be effective, you must set stretch goals and have a game plan. Candidly, neither can be neglected if you want to realize optimal results.
These parallels can be summarized in four fitness principles:
- Principle 1: You never know what you’re capable of until you take that first step. At some point in our leadership journey, we have to take a leap of faith – take on something bigger than we thought possible. Having the courage to take that first step requires self-awareness and confidence. It requires being willing to operate outside of your comfort zone. That is precisely where development happens. Take that first step toward your development and then the next. Before you know it, you will have established a habit, and momentum will be on your side. But you need to know where to start, so I’ll include some tips in the conclusion.
- Principle 2: You must put in the effort. Wanting to be a great leader is different than being a great one. Talent alone is simply not enough. When it comes to optimizing performance, there are no shortcuts. You cannot simply show up and expect best results. This requires both quality and quantity of effort. If I run once or twice per year and compete in a marathon, I will likely finish due to determination. However, my results will be weak. I will have merely checked a box. When you put in the effort, the results you achieve become a platform towards elevating your capabilities and setting new goals.
- Principle 3: You learn more about yourself when times are tough. What makes leadership so complex is the unique set of challenges you will face along the way. When everything is running smoothly, leadership is much easier. When you are tested with adversity, how do you respond? Do you have a strong leadership mindset? A leadership mindset allows us to handle uncertainty and ambiguity. It involves the belief and willingness to confront challenging tasks, operate outside your comfort zone, and leverage the expertise of others. Your leadership mindset is developed over time through experience, feedback and reflection.
- Principle 4: What you consume matters. Inputs affect outputs. In other words, what you put into the system impacts the results you realize. Your leadership requires key nutrients – skills – in order to thrive. Starve yourself of needed development and results suffer. I’m not suggesting that without leadership development you won’t get any results; they just won’t be optimal.
It is likely that you can get by as a leader without focusing on your ongoing development. But is getting by enough? Imagine the impact you could have by continuously improving your leadership capabilities.
Most leaders I’ve worked with either don’t have the time or don’t know where to start. Leadership development does not need to be overly costly or time consuming. Opportunities are all around. You just need to know where to look.
I’d like to leave you with some tips on where you focus your leadership development efforts for optimal results. To begin, complete a 360 assessment. There are many on the market to choose from, and the results will give you insights into how you are showing up as a leader across some key stakeholder groups. Without some form of feedback on your leadership, you won’t know where to focus your development efforts. Use the results to write a specific plan focusing on up to three strengths or areas of improvement. Include specific details about the activities you’ll do and how you know you are successful.
Commit to doing something towards your leadership development at least weekly. Yes, weekly. That is the essence of Principle #2. This may sound ambitious for some, but consider a variety of activities to incorporate into your routine. Some examples include listening to podcasts, reading books and articles, becoming a mentor, meeting with a colleague to learn about another part of the business, or a wide variety of other options. There is power in learning about your business, your competitors, and even other industries.
Be realistic in the goals and activities you pursue, or you risk becoming frustrated. In my experience, I didn’t begin by doing marathons. I gradually built up to it. Take your leadership development for a brisk walk or jog. The development does not occur simply by showing up to the activity. It comes from reflecting on what you learned – how it applies to or contradicts your personal experience and point of view. Consider how you will incorporate your new perspective into how you lead. Developing your leadership muscle also comes from repetition and building good fitness habits. Every good habit begins with commitment and requires taking that first step.
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