Fit to Lead is a weekly series sharing the leadership lessons that I learned from getting fit.
As I explain in my 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. I attribute much of my success to my decision to leverage my years of project management and continuous improvement to accomplish my goal.
Throughout my transformation I learned that there are many important parallels between getting fit and becoming a good leader. There are also lessons that I have learned about fitness from being a good leader. In short there are significant synergies between fitness and leadership.
Fit to Lead is part of my quest to build a world where no goal ever dies of loneliness.
This week is my annual family vacation at Indian Lake in northwest Ohio. We spend this week relaxing and having fun with my wife’s extended family. We have nightly dinners, boating excursions, poker night, board games, bonfires and many other family friendly activities.
As I was relaxing by the lake another parallel between fitness and leadership occurred to me.
Through my fitness journey I have become a runner. One of my personal rules is that I don’t run on consecutive days. If I run too much without any rest days in between my body doesn’t have time to recover and heal and I develop pain. It is very important that I incorporate plenty of rest in order to perform at my peak.
The same thing applies to weight lifting and almost any other exercise. If you go as hard as you can in your workouts every single day they will start to lose their effectiveness. It is during periods of rest that your body rebuilds itself. If you are trying to build muscle it is literally the rest time when the muscles build. The actual workout is just tearing away the old muscle structures to let them build bigger.
Leadership is also requires periods of rest in order to achieve peak performance. Our minds need time away to relax and to process and to build perspective. If you continue to go as hard as you can at leadership every single day you will suffer burnout. This will ultimately hold you back from achieving your goals.
The need for leaders to rest applies to your daily behavior. Some leaders work around the clock and are almost never “off” work. They pride themselves on never missing a detail, never being slow to respond to an email and being able to work more than anybody else. I know leaders who have been operating with a high intensity level of urgency for years without resting and that is just not healthy or effective.
This always-on, extreme hours approach used to be how I operated. I used to work from 7a to usually 6p. I would be on calls on the way home from work. I would be responding to calls, texts and emails during dinner. I would log back in and work from home at night. I would work during the weekends and often go into the office on Sunday morning. I was averaging 60-70 hours per week.
The result of my long hours and lack of rest time was not becoming one of the most effective leaders in the organization. In addition to it taking a big toll on my physical and mental health because of high stress and long hours there were other consequences. First off I conditioned those around me to believe that this was ok and I never set boundaries which meant this became the expectation. There is always more that needs to be done but I had no more to give. It also lowered the expectations for what I expected my team to do because I was trying to do it all myself and that wasn’t fair to them – it limits their professional growth. Plus I ended up becoming tunnel-visioned and focusing on the fires of the moment instead of taking a step back and looking at the situation through a more strategic lens. I never had time to separated myself from the moment. You don’t make good decisions during times of high stress! Finally I was passively setting a bad expectation for my team by modeling bad behavior. I was telling my team that I expected them to work every minute of their life too – though I didn’t. In short my lack of rest made me a less effective leader.
Finally I was passively setting a bad expectation for my team by modeling bad behavior. I was telling my team that I expected them to work every minute of their life too – though I didn’t. In short my lack of rest made me a less effective leader.
More importantly I never really stopped to consider why I was doing this. I was paying a big cost of my lack of rest but what was the benefit? Life is short why spend every minute of it at work?
Do you want to be a good leader? Then rest up!
Start by setting some boundaries and limiting how much you work each day. By doing this you will create time care for yourself and to build meaningful relationships outside of the office. You will have time to work in some exercise and other stress relievers. While you are resting you will likely also be able to see broader connections and approach the work more strategically.
While you are resting your leadership muscles each day make sure you are getting plenty of sleep. Sleep is an often underrated part of living healthy. Your body and mind need sleep to regenerate themselves and to operate at peak efficiency. You cannot be an effective leader when operating on limited sleep.
The final way to work in rest as a leader is vacation. Take time off, go away and disconnect from work and don’t spend your entire vacation checking in at the office. Spend time doing things you enjoy and playing. Also spend some time reading and maybe working on a creative outlet. Give your mind space to roam and rest and live.
Thanks so much for reading this week’s Fit to Lead article. Now go get some rest so you can help build a world where no goal ever dies of loneliness (or exhaustion)!