by Dr. Larry Ferguson
Over the past year I have lost 63 pounds simply by cutting and counting calories along with regular exercise. Strangely enough I have received multiple comments from direct reports and others about how much more energetic and effective I seem to be as a leader. Personally I do not feel that I have changed my level of work intensity or my leadership philosophy or strategies.
So what does this mean? The military has long advocated the connection between physical fitness and leadership. Charles Garcia (2009) in his book "Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows" quotes Maj. John Patrick Gallagher as saying that self-discipline and being able to perform under pressure and exist outside our comfort zone is the key to unlock our success. I believe the key to this statement is "self-discipline". A leader who exhibits the self-discipline to take control of and maintain his or her physical fitness sets a good example for his or her subordinates. As Stephen Covey would say, it is walking the talk. Research supports that being physically fit increases mental stamina and endurance which are both attributes an effective leader must possess.
A 2002 study published by McDowell-Larsen, Kearny and Campbell from the Center for Creative Leadership examined the impact regular exercise had on two multi-rater leadership assessment instruments. Starting in 1997, data was collected from over 600 senior-level executives who attended the same five-day CCL course. Prior to attending the course, the participants completed a health and physical activity questionnaire. Data were collected from both the participants and their observers. Upon arrival, additional data were collected including percent body fat, blood-pressure and exercise routine. The health data were compared with the results of the leadership skills assessments which included input from an observer group comprised of bosses, direct reports and peers. The results revealed that the observer group rated exercisers significantly higher than the non-exercisers on many of the leadership skills examined.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would most likely agree with these findings. Multiple articles have highlighted her routine of arising at 4:30 a.m. daily to work out for 40 minutes regardless of her agenda or where she was in the world. Other well-known fitness buffs include Tom Monaghan, Domino's Pizza founder; Larry Ellison, co-founder and chief executive officer of Oracle Corporation; Klaus Kleinfeld, chief executive officer of Alcoa Inc; and Richard Branson, Virgin founder.
Ultimately physical fitness provides a window to the self-discipline of the leader which conveys a message to followers. Obviously there are health benefits to being physically fit which may enhance either the real or perceived effectiveness of the leader. So who is ready for a workout?
Dr. Larry Ferguson is the Dean of Community Workforce & Economic Development for Ashland Community and Technical College and an experienced adjunct instructor for Mountain State University. For over a decade he has facilitated leadership training and keynotes for business, industry, government, healthcare and higher education. He specializes in professional development, workforce education, personal enrichment education, strategic planning facilitation and organizational wellness.