In Part 1 of this blog, I covered the first three parallels I observed between my fitness journey and leadership. This post will focus on the remaining four lessons I have learned.
The power of progressive overload.
When running, biking, weight training or performing any other fitness activity, it is important to start slow and incrementally build off of your progress from week to week. Using weight training as an example, if someone does 8 reps of bicep curls using 5-pound weights, they may be challenging for a few sessions. In time, however, their body will adapt and grow, and this weight will no longer be as challenging. For the body to continue to build muscle and endurance, the weight will need to be increased.
This principle is called progressive overload.
For our bodies to get stronger, build muscle or increase performance, it must be placed under increased volume or load that exceeds what was done in the past.
This principle also applies to leadership development. Most of us can look back and see that it was the difficult times that build the character, fortitude, and courage necessary to improve our leadership skills. Challenging situations are opportunities for us all to grow and strengthen our capabilities.
Every single one of us has strengths and weaknesses. As leaders, we should continuously seek ways to improve ourselves and raise the standard of excellence of those around us.
Real leaders are not just responsible for their growth, but the growth of their team and those around them as well. Rather than focusing only inward on ourselves, leaders must actively invest in the people we’ve been entrusted to lead.
When you hit a plateau, change things up.
After a year of lifting weights consistently with the same program, I noticed something had changed. I was no longer making progress and was seemingly stuck. Our bodies were made to adapt and survive, and they are very adept at doing so.
If someone does the same routine and program week after week, month after month, the body learns to adapt and ceases to grow. This can be addressed by what Arnold Schwarzenegger terms “shocking the muscle.” Essentially, it means mixing up your program by changing the order of the exercises, the rep range, or the exercise type altogether. This forces your body to adjust, and triggers growth.
This concept does not apply to those new to leadership, but rather, those who have been in their roles for a while. If you find yourself stuck in a rut, it may be time to change something up. I have found that reading something from a different perspective, attending a seminar, or even taking time to invest in someone else can challenge you to improve and grow. We can become so ingrained in our routines that we forget to invest in our growth and neglect the growth of our team. When I find myself stuck in a plateau, I seek to make changes that will once again challenge me.
Connect your mind with what you are doing.
While researching how to get the best results from the time in the gym, I ran across the concept of “mind-muscle connection.” Essentially, this means with every movement, you focus your mind to connect with the muscle(s) with which you are working. Numerous studies comparing individuals who simply “go through the motions” while lifting weights versus those who actively engage their brain and focus on the target muscles being worked, have shown that the latter group showed greater muscle response, which lead to greater muscle growth.
As leaders, we can fall into the trap of “going through the motions” and letting our day dictate our schedule and steal our focus. With all of the technology alerts and distractions we all have, it is even more difficult to be actively engaged in the here and now. Without realizing it, we can become so distracted that we miss the opportunities right in front of us.
Just as we need to connect our minds with our fitness activities to get the most out of them, we need to connect our minds with what we are doing. I worked with a leader that would admonish her staff to “be here now.” At the beginning of meetings, she would make sure everyone was an active participant and stayed focused on the topic at hand. It was a great reminder to focus on what was going on so we could be as productive as possible.
As leaders, we need to guard against going through the motions. There are so many opportunities to learn in the seemingly little things that happen throughout our day. We should actively be looking for ways to grow and learn throughout the day, and should make sure we never miss opportunities to encourage the development of our team. Orison Swett Marden sums this concept up well by saying, “Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men and women wait for opportunities; strong men and women make them.”
Be the best version of you.
One thing I have come to realize about fitness is that it is incredibly individualized. An exercise that may help one individual may not be the best exercise for someone else. Much of fitness is trial and error and discovering what works best for each individual as it relates to diet and exercise.
Each of us has different metabolisms, caloric needs, body shapes, muscular strengths and weaknesses, and genetic abilities. As much as someone may set out to look or perform just like their favorite fitness model or athlete, no two of us were created exactly the same. Invariably, some differences will dictate the way we perform or look. There are also external factors such as stress, time, budget, and social factors that can play a part.
We should strive to be the best version of ourselves, which means embracing strengths and understanding weaknesses. Although it’s good to try and emulate the positive characteristics we admire in others, we must also be true to ourselves and genuine in the process.
I remember watching a leader I respected, and wanting to be emulate that individuals. I tried to replicate something this leader said and did, and ended up failing because I was trying to copy the characteristic I admired and make it my own. I came to realize that I while I could learn a lot from that leader, I would never be just like them. My background, education, and life experiences are different, and so are yours.
We should all strive to be the best versions of ourselves. We can learn from those we respect and admire and desire to emulate specific characteristics. While doing so, we need to remember that it is our unique skills and talents that make us who we are. The world does not need two of the same person, but rather each one of us to become the best leaders we can be.
As Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of someone else.”
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.