Leadership on Point

Are You A Fitness Inspiration, Or Just The Boss?

Fitness and Leadership

There’s a guy at the club where I play tennis who’s a bit of a lunatic on the court.  His footwork is nimble, his hitting aggressive and he runs around fiercely, raising his voice and spewing the occasional expletive.

What I admire about him is his attitude to fitness.

As President and CEO of a successful architectural materials firm in New York City, he’s got the pressure of running a competitive, high-end business.   He takes his fitness seriously, rising most weekdays at 5:30am to get in an hour of exercise that includes strength training and cardiovascular work.  His philosophy is that this keeps his body lean and strong, his brain sharp and his movement agile and energetic, which in turn makes him fitter to lead.  He also considers these sessions ‘stress-relievers’ as they provide an hour of uninterrupted quiet before the madness of the day begins.

He goes further.  He is convinced that this fitness state of being contributes to better customer service, improved quality along his supply chain and a healthier bottom line to his business.  He feels compelled to set an example for his staff.

When it comes to fitness, like everything else in a company, the person at the top sets the tone.    Many CEOs believe in the value of a fit body and mind, and sow a company mission with actions and incentive so the staff will reap the well-being benefits.   Magic happens when people feel healthier and more comfortable in their own skin, and you cannot underestimate how business productivity can skyrocket as a result.

And vital it is, because the current reality is not pretty.  Most people sit for some seven hours a day in an office, often hunched over a computer, where their muscles enter all kinds of weird shortened and lengthened states, negatively affecting their bones and joints leading to tight hip flexors, weak hamstrings, weak butts, mushy cores, and a weak, protracted (think forward-lean) shoulder complex.    People who stand all day have body woes, too.   Plus, all of this non-movement creates lethargy which triggers the desire to eat quick-fix, bad food.   And so the unhealthy cycle continues.

Yes.  Corporate wellness programs, in-house fitness facilities, free or subsidized gym memberships, and company fitness challenges are all great.  Years ago I took blood pressure and measured body fat for hundreds of staff members at big corporate Annual Health Fairs.  A useful service?  Yes.  A ‘get in shape’ turn-on?   Not particularly.

I teach Sports Conditioning to ‘type A’s at lunchtime in the big city.  These athletic types aged 30–65 leave their corporate desks to take a physically demanding class.  But they are already committed to fitness. The business leader’s challenge is to find meaningful ways to help the larger majority – their deconditioned staff – to even consider fitness.

It’s not difficult with intent and imagination.   Once an hour, get people up and away from their desks to stand tall and lean against a wall (think of it as the seventh inning stretch).  Do some squat checks.  Wall push-ups.  Abdominal side bends.  Isometric bicep curls.  Take your team outside and walk around the block; now walk back the other way.  Offer water and sugar-free flavorings.  Avoid the three-o’clock slump by providing healthy snacks of fresh and dried fruit, roasted unsalted nuts.  Cultivate local restaurants with healthy lunch options.  Create a list of healthy ‘easy-to-make-at-home-and-bring-to-work’ lunches.   (Turkey and avocado on whole grain bread, anyone?)

Be the fit, dynamic role model at the top who talks the talk and walks the fitness walk.  And watch the trickle-down theory work wonders as staff follow your lead, begin to feel and look better, with positive, alert minds and freed-up creativity that foster better customer experiences and more profitable revenue.

Who is the Chief Fitness Officer at your company?


Written by Anne Etra, President of ETRAwords.com, fitness professional and consultant.  She can be reached at anne@etrawords.com.