Before I get started, I would like to clarify something – I write about, think about, and work with leaders and leadership. But when I say leaders, I don’t limit that to mean C-Suite or executive types, though they certainly are part of the definition. I mean anyone who wants to have an influence. We are all leaders, after all. It’s a question of whether we choose to accept it, and what we want to lead.
We can best put forward our leadership when we are at our best selves. This means pursuing professional and personal development opportunities to grow and evolve our minds, and practicing mindfulness and spirituality, whatever that may mean on an individual level, to maintain the vitality in our spirit.
What’s the third part of the equation, the thing that often gets neglected, or dealt with only when we have time? Our bodies. Workplace stress, long working hours, sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition and insufficient sleep contribute to masking people’s leadership potential every day. Why is this?
Too little exercise and poor nutrition contributes to loss and deterioration of lean muscle mass. Volume of lean muscle mass is proven to be a key contributing factor to maintaining quality of life as we age;
The accumulation of visceral fat (the fat around the organs) as a result of poor nutrition, exercise and sleep habits contributes to a laundry list of diseases and conditions;
Insufficient core strength can lead not only to lower back issues and increased risk of injury, but posture issues that can have a detrimental impact on a leader’s “presence”;
Energy is diminished, leaving us to rely on caffeine and processed sugars to get us through the day, which causes our bodies to produce cortisol and increase inflammation in the body.
Not being at our physical peak can impact our energy level, our mood, and even our ability to think and reason. It’s tough to be a bold, fearless leader, when, frankly, we feel like crap.
When I started my management career, I had already started having physical issues, even though I was only in my mid-20s. I’d gone from active teenager to sedentary office worker and didn’t manage that transition well. I had poor nutrition or sleep habits, and it didn’t take long for extra weight to pile on and inflammation to start accumulating in my body. The stress of management and leadership only worsened this. I was working long hours and not taking care of myself, and would come home and collapse in a heap on the couch, only to move when it was time for bed, where I slept fitfully, then woke up in the morning without feeling well rested, to slog through another day, powered by caffeine and junk food.
I remember one night thinking, “this is not who I am, I have to get back to how I was by any means necessary.” I went to a therapist to rehabilitate my injuries. I started using an elliptical trainer. It was so demoralizing to have to start from scratch with my conditioning, but I kept going. Getting my sweat on at the end of the day felt good. I started sleeping better, and didn’t feel as stressed. I read up on nutrition and sought advice from my nutritionist friends. I wasn’t perfect, but slowly my diet included more vegetables and healthy fats, and less grains and processed junk. My doctor cleared me for more intense exercise and I started weightlifting and interval training. I started practicing yoga to increase my flexibility. I was able to drop the weight and feel better, but it’s something I need to manage every day, especially around the holidays.
How does physical fitness support leadership?
Physically fit people have more energy, which allows them to be more alert and attentive and focus better throughout the day, without resorting to caffeine and sugar;
Physical activity releases beneficial hormones throughout the body, which helps to heal the body and brain from the stress they are exposed to on a daily basis;
Increased amounts of energy also allows people the time to pursue meaningful activities outside of work, contributing to overall wellness;
Physical activity increases resiliency and resistance to stress (and is a great way to get rid of frustrations);
Physical activity is also proven to improve our brain’s executive function, responsible for creativity, innovation and problem solving;
In her book entitled All the Leader You Can Be, Suzanne Bates mentions that appearance is a key contributor to executive presence. While many examples include wardrobe and general appearance, she also mentions the leader’s “energy”. Physical fitness improves vitality and allows us to release the energy we have within us.
This is why, at Living Being Coaching, we have decided to focus on leaders inside and out. In addition to working with your mindset to bring out your inner leader, we offer a range of fitness and nutrition coaching and consulting services to ensure that your mind, body and spirit are working together and that you have the energy to live the life you want, and create the world you want to see. Let us know how we can help you.