Leadership is an endurance activity. Achieving peak leadership fitness requires self-awareness, goal setting, following a game plan, and overcoming challenges.
As an endurance athlete and someone who has devoted his professional career to leadership development, I have realized some amazing parallels between physical fitness and leadership fitness. Both are journeys into self-discovery. You must set goals, have a game plan, and put in the work in order to achieve optimal results. You will also need to navigate obstacles along your journey.
Two friends – Sandra and Kelly – set a goal to run a marathon together. They were college friends who moved to different towns. They didn’t see each other as often as they would like and welcomed this opportunity to reconnect.
Both led active lifestyles, yet neither had ever run a race over six miles. So, for both this was an ambitious, stretch goal outside of their comfort zone. They identified a race that allowed them eight months to prepare.
Although there were some early similarities in how they prepared for the race, each ultimately took a different path that yielded different results. They each bought their own copy of a first timers guide to marathons with several practical exercises designed to build strength and endurance for the long road ahead. They also both joined a local running club in their town. Both developed a plan. However, the similarities ended here.
Sandra read the book from cover to cover within a week, and she immediately put her plan into action. Her plan incorporated running, strength training, yoga, and rest days. She ran with her local running group once a week. She got to know many of the other local runners. Several had completed marathons, so she asked them for tips and advice. She modified her diet to support her new energy requirements. She kept a journal documenting her fitness activities and how she felt. Not every run Sandra did was great, but she learned something each time she ran. From day one, she had a ‘bring it on’ mindset and fitness became part of her regular routine.
Kelly read the first chapter and set the book aside to work on some other errands and household projects. She ran when her schedule allowed and never ran with her local running club. Sometimes she ran four times a week, and sometimes she ran less often. In fact, there was a three week stretch where she did not run at all. She made up for it by running six days each of the next 2 weeks which left her drained. As race day approached, she was still committed to the marathon and wanted to do well.
Race day arrived and both Sandra and Kelly showed up to the start line excited to spend the day together. Sandra felt strong and confident, and although she didn’t say it out loud, Kelly was anxious. She had not adequately prepared and was not confident she could finish the race.
They ran together for the first six miles before Kelly’s pace slowed considerably. Kelly had some muscle pains and told Sandra to run on without her. By the 14th mile, Kelly was walking. She considered dropping out of the race, but she was determined. She carried on and eventually crossed the finish line – nearly three hours after Sandra. Sandra had already begun thinking about her next fitness goals.
What does this have to do with your leadership?
Substitute the phrase ‘great leader’ for marathon. Much like the two people in this story, you cannot simply show up and expect results. Preparation impacts performance.
Many people want to become a great leader. However, wanting to be a leader and being a great leader are very different. What separates the two are self-awareness and preparation.
Great leaders often make it look easy. It looks like they simply show up, but what most people don’t see is the effort great leaders put in to understand the business, know their team, hone their skills, and elevate their leadership game.
How might Sandra’s same approach translate to her leadership fitness? She took the first step by setting a clear and challenging goal. She built a solid foundation of knowledge, leveraged the expertise of others, and applied that knowledge in a variety of ways. She incorporated her fitness activities into her regular routine, tracked her progress, and learned continuously. Her approach helped reinforce the right mindset. Ultimately, she achieved her goal and used that as a basis for setting her next goals.
Here is some practical advice for you to consider as part of your leadership fitness. Never begin leadership development without a solid understanding of what you should work on. You can determine this by using reliable assessment tools such as a 360 assessment. Use the results to build your game plan. Incorporate a variety of activities that allow you to build your leadership skills at least weekly. Examples include knowing your company strategic plan and how you support it, learning about other parts of the business, and understanding the competitive landscape.
Build leadership insights by listening to podcasts and reading business books – at least three per year to start. Maintain your flexibility by participating in a company task force, job shadowing or mentoring to name a few options. Endurance comes from building good habits and incorporating time to reflect on what you have learned.
Leadership development activities are all around. To achieve peak leadership fitness, you just need to know where to look and how to incorporate these activities into your regular routine.
Timothy J. Tobin, is the author of Peak Leadership Fitness: Elevating Your Leadership Game (CLICK HERE to get your copy), he is currently vice president, franchisee onboarding and learning at Choice Hotels International, where he oversees the hotel opening processes and learning strategy and programs for all franchisees. A frequent leadership speaker, he has served as an adjunct professor for more than 20 years at the University of Maryland, Catholic University, Trinity University, and George Washington University.
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