Fit to Lead is a weekly series that connects two of my biggest passions to explore the leadership lessons that I learned from getting fit.
As I explain in my new book, Operation Melt: How I Used Life-Changing Project Management to Lose Over 100 Pounds in Under a Year, I have recently gone through a significant personal transformation. After a lifetime of obesity I made a decision to change my life and went from 325 pounds to finishing a half marathon in just 16 months. I accomplished this simply by turning to my years of project management, data analytics, technology and continuous improvement to accomplish my goal.
But my transformation wasn’t just about what I lost, it was about what I gained too. I gained a new confidence, a new perspective on and a calling. That calling is to help inspire and empower people to accomplish their biggest goals using strategies based in project management and continuous improvement.
That is where Fit to Lead fits in.
Throughout my transformation I learned that there are many important parallels between getting fit and becoming a good leader. There are also many lessons that I have learned about fitness from being a good leader. In short there are significant synergies between fitness and leadership.
These Fit to Lead articles are another step I am taking to help build a world where no goal ever dies of loneliness.
When I started running and I started working out at the gym it surprised me how friendly the fitness community is. As I am out there running, my head in my music, my focus is on my course but everybody I pass along the way gives me a smile and maybe a wave. Every one of them acknowledges my existence. It is kind of a way to say “hello fellow human, enjoy your version of the same journey I am on” and it is pretty uplifting.
Shouldn’t this be exactly how we behave as leaders?
The first step to building solid relationships as a leader is simply acknowledging the existence of others. Once you do this you can continue breaking down barriers and establishing a solid foundation of approachability. It is amazing just how powerful it can be to send the “hello fellow human, enjoy your version of the same journey I am on” message as a leader.
Star by asking yourself what kind of leader you want to be. I am guessing your answer will absolutely reinforce the value of acknowledging the existence of other people. Who wants to be that aloof, unapproachable and out of touch leader?!
Here are a few tips to help make this happen.
Look Up and Make Eye Contact
First and foremost you need to realize that there is another human being present and this starts with looking up and making eye contact.
All too often we leaders fancy ourselves as too busy. So we go walking down the hallway, eyes down, checking our phones and don’t even see the other human being. How do you think this makes that other person feel? What message do you think this sends about you as a leader?
If you don’t even acknowledge that a person exists when passing in the hallway, how likely do you think that person is to be comfortable walking in and sharing the next big idea that revolutionizes your company? Even if that person doesn’t have the next big idea they are still a human being. Who do you want to be?
The next step after making eye contact is to smile. Beyond acknowledging that another human being exists a smile shows a little bit of warmth and helps put them at ease. There is enough stress and anxiety in most of our workplaces every day. How much more stress and anxiety gets added when a leader looks at you and grimaces or frowns?
I can tell you first hand that it is relaxing when a complete stranger smiles as they pass you when running. It is even better when it is the boss!
Say Hello… with the Person’s Name
You have made eye contact, you have smiled and the next logical step is to speak.
If you say hello to people in the hallway it is another inviting step that helps indicate that you are open to being approached. Then, if you greet the person by name, they know that they matter you you, their leader. They know that you know who they are – even if this is all you really know about them.
Extra Credit: Engage with People
Finally comes the pinnacle of acknowledging somebody’s existence: engage them.
This can be as simple as asking how they are – though I think “how are you” has become a super cliché question and I usually think the person asking it could care less how I am. So I would encourage you to find something more unique to ask when starting to engage people. Maybe default to “how is your week so far?” Or even dig even deeper and go with something like “what are you excited about this week?” Or maybe you could randomly ask people in the hallway “what is one thing that would make your job easier / more enjoyable / more fulfilling?”That really stops people in their tracks and makes them know that you care that they are there. Plus it may help you keep your finger on the pulse of the business!
An ideal scenario would be to ask them about something that you know is important to them inside or outside of the office. I had a leader ask me if I felt like I was ready for my next half marathon and it floored me! How did that leader know that was something I was working hard on and was top of mine?
When you are a leader who acknowledges other people, smiles, greets them (by name) and engages with them about something that indicates that you really know them you are going to be a leader that people love. They are going to enjoy working for you and will work even harder than if you were the unapproachable guy in the office. Plus you are going to bring a little more humanity into the office and isn’t that something we all need right now?
Thanks so much for reading this week’s Fit to Lead article. I sincerely hope that you can apply some of these ideas to your own leadership journey starting today. By working to improve our leadership together we can help build a world where no goal ever dies of loneliness. Plus, because goals are dreams with a deadline, maybe we can work together to make dreams come true!