Once every two weeks a trainer comes to my house to beat up on me for an hour. When I stop to think about it, it is strange that I pay someone to come to my house to make me sore for a couple days. Tony’s job is to help me stay on track with my overall fitness development, show me new exercises, and answer related questions (I ask lots of questions. He earns his money!).
During a recent visit I asked, “What are the top 3 reasons people need to work out?” He hesitated, and then said, “I could come up with 10 or 15.” I pressed him for the top three, though. While I continued swinging a kettle bell weight, he thought. When I finished a set, he gave me his answer: “mobility, strength, and prevention.” Tony shared his thoughts on the importance of each these and I realized, with a Homer Simpson-esque “D’oh!” that these also apply to leadership. Then I continued swinging that kettle bell for another set.
In a physical workout, we develop and maintain mobility so that we can continue to navigate stairs safely, get in and out of cars with ease, pick up grocery bags without throwing out the back – all those basics of life we take for granted when we are “young and invincible.” Mobility is essentially the ability to use your body in a variety of basic and essential daily settings.
Mobility in leadership means being able to apply leadership principles in a variety of basic and essential daily settings. Effective leaders know they are always on duty and the variety of leadership settings is innumerable — every moment from chatting with employees in the parking lot in the morning to thanking the janitor on the way out the door at night.
Secondly, in a physical workout, we develop and maintain strength to ensure our muscles continue to be toned and working effectively. The muscular systems in our body are a very complex, integrated system of bio-machines. When they work well, we are able to engage in activities that range from fun (biking with the family or wrestling with my teenage sons) to hard work (raking snow off my roof in winter or more workouts with Tony!). We all know, too, what it is like when the muscle systems are not working well. Attempts at physical activity often result in more damage to yourself and sometimes others!
Strength in leadership is very much like muscular strength. Strong leadership is also toned and effective — it is able to deal with a variety of problems, situations, and stakeholders. When leadership is strong, goals are met and visions are accomplished. Weak leadership, though, just like working with weak muscles, can damage your leadership stature and cause damage to the organization and to followers!
Finally, perhaps the most important benefit of a workout is prevention of emotional and physical disease. The emotional disease most often prevented by working out is burnout. Anyone who has suffered burnout knows how horrible that experience is, for yourself and for your family. Exercising helps to relieve stress and also creates a physical system (the body) more able to deal with and fight off disease. Physical workouts prevent and equip you to deal with emotional and physical crises.
Prevention in leadership is similar in that effective leadership can prevent some crises and then more effectively deal with crises that do arise. Effective leaders are able to read the landscape of situations and work with people and resources to avoid costly and time-consuming challenges — but not all of them! Many challenges inevitably make their way through the defenses. Effective leaders are able to, just like a strong body, more effectively deal with the challenges (diseases) that do spring up.
The Leadership Workout
When Tony visits me, he has a routine for me to work through. He has a specific strategy for helping me pursue and achieve my fitness goals. I am no longer the virtually indestructible 18 year old kid I once was, but at 46 I am relatively fit with 8% body fat and I weigh less than I did when I graduated from high school.
What about leadership? Is there a leadership workout routine? In the near future, I will write an article about “leadership workouts.” In the meantime, I would like to see your comments about what it means to engage in a leadership workout. What do you do to increase your leadership mobility and strength, and to prevent crises of leadership?