Sweating It: Why Leaders Need to Exercise
Want a business reason to turn off the computer, leave the office and hit the gym? How about news that regular exercise could make you a better leader?
A study from the Center for Creative Leadership found that executives who exercise are significantly more effective leaders than those who don't.
Using data from CEOs and other top executives collected over a span of 10 years, we compared two groups: those who were regular exercisers and those who were non-exercisers or sporadic exercisers. We cross-referenced the exercise status with "360-degree" assessment tools in which the individual executive is rated by colleagues on various leadership attributes.
We found that the exercisers rated significantly higher than their non-exercising peers on overall leadership effectiveness. They also scored higher on specific traits including: inspiring commitment, credibility, leading others, leading by example, energy, resilience and calmness.
Of course, the lives of executives are busy and stressful. Finding time for regular exercise is a challenge for most. Competing priorities, guilt over setting aside the time, long work hours, long commutes, and tiredness are common roadblocks.
For all of us, finding time to exercise takes effort, drive and creativity. You can start by setting a goal to do something active every day. You'll begin to pay attention to where your time goes and seek out slots for exercise. You may end up with 15 minutes on most days but find you can fit in 30 to 60 minutes two or three times a week.
Other strategies for maintaining regular fitness programs in spite of extremely busy schedules include:
1. Do more, more often. Find little ways to increase your activity throughout the day: walk while talking on the phone, take frequent stretch breaks, park at the far end of the lot, and take the stairs. Take advantage of an open slot in your calendar whenever it appears. Even ten minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise can boost mood and energy.
2. Keep track. Log your workouts: what you did and for how long. You'll be able to track progress, set goals and stay motivated.
3. Mix it up. Your stationary bike or treadmill may be convenient, but be sure to add variety. Physically, it is important to change your pace and intensity; mentally, you are likely to get bored if you always do the same thing. Go outdoors. Play a sport. Try a new exercise class. Go dancing.
4. Focus on exercise not size. Consistent exercise matters more than weight loss. The CCL study found that levels of body fat made no difference in how leaders were rated by their bosses, peers and direct reports. These findings don't negate the potential health detriments of excess body fat, but your first priority should be to make exercise a habit. Weight loss and other fitness goals can be addressed later with guidance from your doctor.
5. Get a trainer or exercise coach. A personal trainer or access to a trainer at your gym can be a great motivator and a time saver. The trainer can help you plan your exercise program, show you safe ways to intensify your workout, and keep you going when you want to quit or take it easy.
6. Take it on the road. Road warriors and occasional travelers can work in exercise with minimal effort. Pack a set of stretch cords for resistance training, a pair of running shoes and a swimsuit. Walk between airport terminals and gates when you have the time. Use stairs. Get smart about your hotel: Many have fitness centers, nearby gyms, or will even put a treadmill in your room.
7. Be patient. Many people start a program because of health concerns. At first, exercise is a chore. If you stick with it, the daily benefits will kick in. Executives who exercise regularly look forward to it, saying that it is a stress release, a great way to think of new ideas, to feel strong and flexible, to have stamina, and to have "time for me."
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