A few years ago, I decided it was time to get serious about fitness and my overall health. Stress, poor diet, and lack of physical activity had led me to a point where I was struggling with low energy and battling fatigue. I decided to embark on a lifestyle change and get serious about my health and fitness. What I did not know when I started this journey was that many of the lessons I learned along the way would translate to several other areas of my life. One of the most significant parallels I found was between fitness and leadership.
Many of us know what it is like to start an exercise routine, only to look in the mirror and not see a difference. I’m sure more people would be more inspired to work out if the results were immediately noticeable. Unfortunately, it can take weeks to start seeing outward results. Leadership is the same way. We can decide to become better leaders and take the steps necessary to do so, only to get discouraged when we do not see immediate results. When this happens, it does not mean that things aren’t changing; it simply means the outward results of the change have not begun to manifest yet. We are developing patterns, habits, and routines that will pay dividends later on.
Here are seven lessons that I learned about leadership as a result of my fitness journey:
- Stay away from “fads” and focus on what’s proven to work
The fitness industry is expected to reach $70 Billion in 2019. While the weight loss industry continues to grow year-over-year, our national obesity rate continues to climb. It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of Americans will be considered obese in 2019, marking nearly a 34 percent increase from 2008. While many factors contribute to the obesity epidemic, it is clear that many of the “fad” diets and exercise routines are not working.
Similarly, there is no substitute for hard work when it comes to leadership and developing leaders. There are no “quick fixes” or shortcuts. There is no substitute for hard work and putting in the time needed to improve. To achieve real fitness goals, a routine must be developed and followed. It is the same with leadership. We need to make time to establish routines and habits that will make us more productive and more effective.
Once these routines are established, we need to make sure we consistently follow them so that they become positive habits. There have been many leadership “fads” over the years, but the basic principles of managing to people’s strengths, treating others as you would want to be treated, and leading by example cannot be substituted for the latest trend to hit the market. As with fitness and diet, steady and consistent progress will always beat fast gains that cannot be sustained over time. Consistency is key to any fitness program, and it is the same with leadership.
- Take time to celebrate achievements
Any good fitness coach will tell you that it is essential to set goals for yourself and take time to celebrate accomplishments. A goal could be a cheat meal after a certain number of weeks, a day at the spa, or anything that is viewed as a reward. These celebrations help reinforce good behaviors and give us something to look forward to.
Likewise, it is important that we as leaders take time to celebrate our professional accomplishments, and those of our team. Many leaders can be so focused on “what’s next” that they don’t take the time to celebrate achievements. It is easy to get into a routine where we focus solely on the tasks ahead and try and lead the team from project to project. As of late, I have come to appreciate the power of recognizing accomplishments with the team. These celebrations give the team something to look forward to and serve as a way for everyone to take a break from the daily routine. And they can be done in a variety of ways. Such examples can include gift cards for high-performing employees, lunch parties with the team, and offsite celebrations.
We as leaders need to remember to put time aside to celebrate the accomplishments of our team — and not merely focus on the next task at hand. Setting goals for yourself and your team is an important part of leadership. And when these goals are met, we need to take time to acknowledge them. Recognition, sincere praise and celebration are powerful tools in every leader’s toolbox.
- Seek advice from experts
When I started my fitness routine, the first thing I did was seek out advice from some of the best experts I could find. I watched countless hours of YouTube videos learning how to properly perform exercises, spoke to fitness coaches and asked for their insight and critique, and read books. I realized people who have been successful are willing to share their expertise with me, if I was willing to take advice and listen. This advice, however, was not a substitute for me doing my own work; I still had to learn to take what they shared and find what worked best for me. Their feedback saved me years of struggling with the wrong programs or form that could have led to serious injury, lack of progress, and eventually, frustration.
Learning leadership can be very similar. My career has benefited enormously from people that have taken the time to teach me various leadership principles. Most of these were not formal mentoring relationships but me asking questions and observing the behaviors and choices of those I respected. To be clear, I am talking about people who have proven to be successful in business and leadership. Not individuals who are trying to sell us the latest theory or fad with no credentials to back it up. There are many successful people out there who are willing to teach and share what worked for them. We can learn from multiple sources including books, podcasts, seminars, mentoring, and professional societies. It is up to us to seek out this information and then personalize it to our own leadership style and abilities.
An example of this is the first President of the United States. When George Washington was addressing his group of volunteers in the Virginia Regiment in 1756 he told them:
“And as we now have no opportunities to improve from example, let us read for this desirable end.”
George Washington understood that if he could not find an example of the leadership he was seeking, history could be his guide. All of the great leaders I know have taken the time to study other successful leaders and learn what worked for them so they can apply these principles for themselves. Learning from the experiences (both successes and failures) of those that are proven leaders is something every leader should do.
Stay tuned for part 2…
This piece was originally posted on CIO Reflections, a blog created by Michael Saad, VP and CIO at University of Tennessee Medical Center. His diverse career path also includes leadership roles with TrustPoint Solutions and Henry Ford Health System. To follow him on Twitter, click here.