Fit to Lead: Eat Your Elephant

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.

Eat Your Elephant

Last week I talked about why it is so important to be bad at things. It is important to be bad at things because it is when you are bad that you grow the most. Being bad at something means that you are pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Comfort is the opposite of growth!

My point last week is that it is good to be bad at things not to stay bad at things. Yes it is important to be bad at things in the beginning it is equally important to get better. If you stay bad at things you aren’t leveraging the opportunity to grow.

There is one clear way to get better at something. This saying is one of the core strategies in project Management and is embodied by a famous saying.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

The best way to get better at something is to keep trying. Keep take small step after small step. Break your goal into bite sized pieces and start at the beginning.

In my book I talk about how I set a big goal, to lose over 100 pounds in a year. This was a big elephant that I couldn’t eat whole by any means. I was 325 pounds so a big bite wasn’t just out of reach it could also be dangerous. So I started small.

I started tracking what I was consuming and adding a little bit of walking into my daily routine before work. This turned into more walking. That turned into a little bit of running. That running turned into running my first mile. From my first mile I built to running my first 5k on the one year anniversary of starting my journey. Then, sixteen months into my journey, I ran my first half marathon.

I went from being bad at fitness to being an athlete by taking one bite at a time. I dedicated myself to trying my best every day and getting a little better each day. And it work better than I ever imagined possible.

This is how leadership works too, focus every day on trying your best and getting a little better. It is ok to start off bad and to make mistakes. But making the same mistakes and not improving is inexcusable. Staying bad and not getting better isn’t fair to you and it certainly isn’t fair to those who you lead.

How do you get better at leadership every day? There are lots of things in your control to make it happen.

Set short and long-term goals. Start by figuring out where you want to go. Set a SMART goal about what kind of leader you want to be and the skills you will need to develop to get there.

Practice. Find ways to practice these new skills at every opportunity. This doesn’t just mean trying to stretch your leadership muscles at work but also looking for non-work opportunities. Many organizations are looking for volunteers to step up and take the lead and make things happen.

Track progress. Since you have set SMART goals for your leadership you are able to measure how you are doing, right? So measure it! Track your progress towards your goal every day so you know if you need to course-correct or if you are on the right track.

Ask for feedback. Not sure how to measure progress, consider consulting the experts. Ask people for feedback on how you are doing with your leadership goals. Get this feedback from the people you are leading, your peers and trusted mentors. Feedback is a great way to track your progress.

Repeat daily. Finally, repeat this process every single day and keep getting better.

Thanks so much for reading this week’s Fit to Lead article. I hope that you continue to eat your elephant one bite at a time. When that elephant is gone, find a bigger one and start over. By working to improve our leadership together we can help build a world where no goal ever dies of loneliness.

Fit to Lead: Be Bad at Things

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.

Be Bad at Things

As I mentioned in last week’s post I was on an annual family vacation last week enjoying some rest and relaxation. While on vacation I played golf with my brother-in-law which had become an annual tradition. I am not good at golf at all but mostly because I only play once or twice a year though he plays way more frequently and is great at it.

During our golf game we started taking about whether or not his twelve year old daughter is ready to start playing golf yet. We know that she soon will be and it is only a matter of time. But he said that she probably isn’t ready yet because of one trait that would make it no fun for her.

Like many kids her age she gets very frustrated with any activity where she isn’t instantly good. Then she wants to give it up and move on to other things. He is working on teaching her the important lesson that you can’t be good at everything in the beginning. He will do great at teaching this lesson and she will soon beat us all at golf!

This got me thinking back to when I first started my fitness journey. I didn’t know how to do much beyond just walking and tracking foods; and I wasn’t great at that! I was underestimating my portion sizes and mis-logged my food often. I also underestimated the importance of rest, form and proper equipment and gave myself several injuries but I learned and got better.

Eventually I went on to achieve my goal, and then some, and ran a half marathon just 16 months after starting my journey at 325 pounds. I was successful because I stuck with it, I learned and I got better despite not being a natural. I read a lot, I talked to more experienced people and I practiced. Plus I hired a trainer to help me be safe when I started lifting weights so I had some expert guidance to keep me from a serious injury.

What does this have to do with leadership? It relates to one important, and maybe tough to hear, fact. Great leaders aren’t born as great leaders. Leadership is a learned skill and it takes lots of practice to be good at it.

It is important to be bad at leadership because it is when you are bad that you grow the most. Being bad at something means that you are pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Comfort is the opposite of growth!

Just think about how bodybuilders grow big muscles. They constantly lift just a little more weight than their previous maximum. It is uncomfortable, and sometimes literally painful, but it is how muscles develop. Your leadership muscles work the same way.

Give yourself permission to be bad at things as long as you are committed to getting better. Then do the work! Read, talk to experts but, most importantly, try and push yourself outside your comfort zone. Before you know it your leadership muscles will grow huge!

Thanks so much for reading this week’s Fit to Lead article. By working to improve our leadership together we can help build a world where no goal ever dies of loneliness.

Fit to Lead: Rest Up

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.

Rest Up

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)!

Fit to Lead: Haters Gonna Hate

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.

Haters Gonna Hate

“Tony, I liked you better when you were bigger. Just sayin’…”

This is what an acquaintance of mine told me recently when she saw me for the first time in many months. It was kind of like a punch in the stomach at first given all of my hard work and dedication to getting fit over the past two years. That’s when it dawned on me: I don’t care, she is entitled to her opinion by she doesn’t get a vote in my decisions.

There is an important leadership lesson in this story.

When you are trying to build something and you are pursuing goals there is always going to be somebody who doesn’t agree with you. There are going to be people who want to tell you how to lead your team or live your journey. There will also be naysayers who just try to impede your success for many reasons including to prevent them from looking bad in comparison.

In other words: haters are going to hate!

Your job as a leader is to know when to listen and when to dismiss the haters.

Start by asking yourself what the intent of the feedback was: constructive or destructive. Was the goal of the feedback to help build you up or to tear you down? This isn’t always easy to determine but you have to do it.

If you don’t evaluate the intent of the feedback you will either take it all to heart and give up on your goals or you will dismiss it all and risk missing out on important constructive feedback. If you dismiss all feedback and constructive criticism you also risk becoming arrogant and self-centered and no leader wants that.

If you determine that the feedback is constructive listen to it. Understand what the feedback is and why the person believes what they believe. Ask questions and dig deeper. Then consider whether or not there is something valuable in the feedback. But don’t just take the feedback and go with it. Consider it as input and then make your own decision. Be confident in your goals!

If you determine that the feedback is destructive (like “I liked you better when you were bigger”) dismiss it as quickly as possible. It does not serve you well to internalize anybody’s destructive or critical feedback. It does little more than shake your confidence and your commitment to your goals.

In the words of my buddy Patti, who I respect immensely: you just gotta give that shit to the lord!

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.

Fit to Lead: You Don’t Have to be a Boss to be a Leader

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.

You don’t have to be a boss to be a leader!

“I’m not a leader, I am nobody’s boss…”

This is an actual quote that somebody said to me recently. That’s when I was reminded of a moment in my fitness journey that sticks with me to this day.

Far into my journey to lose weight and get fit I visited my doctor for a routine checkup on my progress. We talked about a number of things and then I asked him a question that was on my mind. I was interested in figuring out how much protein I should be consuming each day. I kept finding conflicting information and had significantly ramped up my running and weight lifting and wanted to make sure I was being as healthy as possible.

My doctor was right on top of things and consulted his reference materials to find the right answer to my question. That is when he said the sentence that stuck with me.

“For you we need to look up the protein intake target for athletes…”

What?! I am not an athlete! I don’t compete or train for competitions.

My doctor reminded me that being considered an “athlete” has nothing to do with being competitive. It is about behavior and performance and I was doing both at an athlete level and needed to think of my nutrition accordingly. It was only in my head that I wasn’t an athlete.

Leadership is very similar. It is about action, behavior and performance and is not about a specific status or position. If you are actively helping to influence people to be the best versions of themselves you are a leader. If you are helping your team achieve their best possible results together you are a leader. I you are helping people continually grow you are a leader.

Just like you don’t have to be an elite competitor to be an athlete, you don’t have to be a boss to be a leader. Step up, take action, behave as a leader

Not sure where to start? Start by thinking like a leader. Always focus on how you can accomplish the best result by influencing everybody to use their talents for the benefit of the team. At the same time focus on how to help each member of the team

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.