The connection between fitness and leadership goes back thousands of years to when “fit to lead” literally meant that a person was physically fit enough to lead a community. Even centuries ago, when man depended on hunting and gathering food for survival, followers used to rely on leaders’ greater strength for protection. Though times have changed and qualities required for great leadership may have changed tremendously, fitness will always play an integral part in being an inspiring leader.
True for most businesses and business professionals, we face daily challenges that come our way – heavy travel, high-stress situations, irregular eating, and a never-ending schedule of meetings. As a result, our health and personal achievements are derailed by these daily professional challenges. Hence it’s essential for today’s leaders to be catalysts for change in inspiring the company’s workforce in managing personal health. There is no more powerful support for any strategy than to lead by example. It’s more about the “walk” than the “talk” and that’s where most leaders fall short.
Successful leaders take out time for daily exercise because they have no choice. They have to train their body to handle the increasing demands for long working hours. Any physical exercise (weight training, cardio exercises, or yoga) gives strength and energy for the whole day. You may have heard about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s superman energy levels. He once stepped off an 18-hour plane ride after working most of the time, took a shower in his hotel room, and conducted 12-hours of meetings! The other executives were ready to call it a day but Cook had plenty of energy left. How does he do it? Cook is a fitness buff, often hitting the gym as early as 5:00 a.m. He cannot afford not to work out.
Most of us have room to step up our level of physical activity. It doesn’t always require that you workout at 5:00 a.m., but the key is to, as Nike tells us, “just do it.” Take a look at some world leaders who lead healthy lifestyles and are strong ambassadors for health in their nations. Tony Abbot has competed in an IRONMAN Triathlon and finds time in his busy schedule to regularly cycle up and down the hills near Parliament house. Barack Obama works out daily with his wife, Michelle Obama, who is equally conscious of her health. Vladimir Putin practices martial arts and judo and promotes health within Russia, aiming to make it a priority for its citizens. Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian Prime Minister, has made headlines recently as one of the fittest leaders in the world.
We all saw the effect when our own Prime minister Modi ran the yoga campaign and initiated International Yoga Day. Bal Murkund Singh, a popular yoga instructor in India said, “They all heard it on TV and they are running towards the yoga. The Prime Minister is the king. If the king does something, that is very effective. And this time, our king is doing yoga.”
The law of mimicry suggests that a regular team member unconsciously mimics the behavior patterns of their leaders. For example, if a leader is not disciplined or punctual, studies have shown that their subordinates tend to also lack punctuality and discipline.
On the other hand, a healthy and disciplined leader inspires his or her team members to be healthy and be more energetic. This increases the overall productivity of the team, as they are more likely to be disciplined and fall sick less often.
As a business leader what are you currently doing to ensure a happy, healthy, and productive workforce? We would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and fitness practices!