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Leadership and Physical Fitness

Barbell

One thing 20 years in the Marine Corps taught me was the importance of physical fitness. The Corps demands that all Marines be fit and are tested at least semi-annually to ensure minimum standards are met. I feel lucky to have that sense of responsibility ingrained deeply as I continue life after my service career.

No one doubts the importance and value of fitness, and thankfully our society as a whole seems to take that to heart. That is at least, we collectively accept and promote the value, even if we don’t actually practice it.

The benefits of fitness, including greater life expectancy, lowered risk of sickness and disease, greater energy and endurance, and so many others are indisputable. For a leader, it is even more important. Anyone in a leadership position who, for example, is either grossly overweight or otherwise completely out of shape not only hurts themselves, but does a disservice to those they lead. I would quickly add that of course there are exceptions in the case of those medically limited or mobility challenged in ways that make the goal of being physically fit in a traditional sense out of reach. It is for all of us to do the best we can with what we have. For those of us whose only limitation is our will, determination, and discipline to do something about our burgeoning waistlines there is no valid excuse.

Most fundamentally, a leader is supposed to set a good example for his or her subordinates. Setting the example doesn’t come from speech, it comes from action. Fitness does so much more than just keep the extra weight off and prevent us from blaming the cleaners for shrinking our clothes. It increases mental stamina and endurance as well. It helps one weather stressful events with aplomb, and to keep ones head when all around them are losing theirs. The leader of the group, the one expected to make a good decision under stress and chart an effective course, should take advantage of the extra mental acuity and sharpness that comes with being physically fit.

Beyond clearer thinking, there is a another facet to consider which comes into focus upon realizing the parallels that exist between a person who has taken command of themselves and are committed to getting fit, and that of an organization which must execute difficult tasks in order to improve. Just as a person must sacrifice time for other pursuits and undertake physically difficult tasks in order to get in shape, so must the larger group hew to difficult tasks to reach the next higher goal. The physical and moral courage required to take new paths which may involve calculated institutional risk will be better managed by that leader who knows personally what it is like to forego the comfortable for the difficult, the easy for the hard.

Good leaders know how to push themselves, personally and professionally. To grow and make thrive an organization requires the same physical and mental stamina as a demanding workout. The leader that knows what that feels like will have an edge over those that don’t.

About the author

Matt Howard A retired Marine pilot, an aviation consultant, and a yacht broker who believes that leaders are made and not born.

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Posted in General Leadership.

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