29 Jul Does exercise actually make people better leaders?

Entering the army at age of 17 made me a student of leadership.  Leading by example meant being physically fit – an army requirement to be a “leader with presence.”

In business, I have often thought the physically fit business leaders were better leaders, so I was intrigued to read Shelley DuBois’ article in Fortune on why executives should sweat!  She mentions General David Petraeus saying “physical fitness was the most important trait for good leadership.”  This is based on the work of Charles Garcia, author of Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows: Learn How to Inspire Others, Achieve Greatness, and Find Success in Any Organization.  Garcia said the number one leadership lesson is,  “Great leaders have deep reserves of physical, spiritual, and emotional energy, and that energy is usually fueled by a strong and supportive relationship with the people they love, regular exercise, a healthy lifestyle, and setting aside time for reflection.”

Exercise cultivates energy, toughness, discipline, and the ability to adapt and overcome.  Exercise can also expose weaknesses in these areas – akin to showing one’s true colors (aka character flaws).

Software company SAS has a corporate athlete program and claim participants are more productive and focused.  It’s a program modeled after the Human Performance Institute where results are measured in four areas:

  • Physical: Higher energy, fitness, and frequency of exercise.
  • Emotional: Sustained levels of confidence, positive feelings, and resilience.
  • Mental: Increased mental alertness, focus and preparation for work.
  • Spiritual: Higher feelings of being fully engaged with work and personal life.

Leaders keep obfuscating the balance issues between work and family.  If you’ve ever tried to physically balance anything, you know it’s nearly an impossible state to hold.  Things lean one way or the other.  The elusive” balance is knowing when to focus on one and when to focus on the other.  The better fit you are, the better you’re able to manage your energy, which translates into leveraging downtime, handling stress, and erasing guilt because your time is spent in the right places!

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