What My Fitness Journey Taught Me About Leadership - Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog, I covered the first three parallels I observed between my fitness journey and leadership. This second and final blog post on the subject will include the remaining four lessons I have learned.

4. The power of progressive overload

When running, biking, weight training or performing any other fitness activity it is important to start slow and incrementally build off of your progress from week-to-week. Using weight training as an example, if someone does a bicep curl using 5 lbs. for eight reps they may be challenged with that weight for a few sessions. Soon, their body will adapt and grow, and this weight will no longer be as challenging. For their body to continue to build muscle and endurance, the weight will need to be increased. 

This principle is called progressive overload. 

For our bodies to get stronger, build muscle or increase performance, it must be placed under increased volume or load that exceeds what was done in the past. > 

This principle of progressive overload also applies to our leadership development. Most of us can look back and see that it was the difficult times that built the character, fortitude, and courage necessary to improve our leadership skills. Challenging situations are opportunities for us all to grow and strengthen our capabilities. 

Instead of shying away from these challenges, we should embrace them as opportunities to grow and expand our skills. It can be easy to be so focused on “surviving” that we fail to use these opportunities as ways to grow and thrive.

As leaders, we need to continually challenge ourselves and look for opportunities to grow and improve. Every single one of us has strengths and weaknesses. We should be actively seeking ways to improve ourselves and raise the standard of excellence of those around us. 

Real leaders are not just responsible for their growth but are also concerned about the growth of their team and those around them. Taking an active interest and role in the team’s growth is a responsibility that every leader has. Leadership is more than focusing inwardly on ourselves; it is also actively investing in the people that we have been entrusted to lead. 

We should be continually challenging ourselves and those around us to grow and improve. It is only by openly embracing challenges and actively looking for ways to develop our leadership skills can we grow and improve over time. 

5. When you hit a plateau, you need to change things up

After one year of lifting weights consistently with the same program, I noticed something had changed. I was no longer making progress and was seemingly stuck. Through this process, one thing I learned is that the human body is incredible at adapting to what we do. Our bodies were made to adapt and survive, and they are very adept at doing so.

If someone does the same routine and program week after week, month after month, their bodies learn to adapt to that program and in turn cease to grow. The way to address this is what Arnold Schwarzenegger terms “shocking the muscle”. Essentially, your body thinks you are going to do a specific exercise for a set amount of reps and in a particular order. Instead, you mix up the program by changing the order of the exercises, changing the rep range, or changing the exercise type altogether. This forces your body to adjust to this new challenge and triggers growth. 

This concept does not apply to those new to leadership but rather to those who have been in leadership for while. If you find yourself stuck in a rut and are no longer improving or making progress, it may be time to change something up. I have found that reading something from a different perspective, attending a seminar, or even taking time to invest in someone else can challenge you to improve and grow. We can become so ingrained in our routines that we forget to invest in our growth and neglect the growth of our team. When I find myself stuck in a plateau, I seek to make changes that will once again challenge me to grow and continue to learn.

6. Connect your mind with what you are doing

While researching how to get the best results from the time in the gym, I ran across the concept of “mind-muscle connection”. Essentially, this means that every movement you do you focus your mind to connect with the muscle(s) you are working. Numerous studies have been done comparing individuals who simply “go through the motions” while lifting weights versus those who actively engage their brain and focus on the target muscles being worked. The individuals who actively engaged their mind and focused on the task at hand showed greater muscle response which lead to greater muscle growth.

As leaders, we can fall into the trap of “going through the motions” and letting our day dictate our schedule and steal our focus. With all of the technology alerts and distractions we all have, it is even more difficult to be actively engaged in the here and now.

Without even thinking about it, we can become so distracted with things around us that we miss the opportunities right in front of us.

Just as we need to connect our minds with our fitness activities to get the most out of them, we need to connect our minds with what we are doing. I worked with a leader that would admonish her staff to “be here now”. She would encourage the team to do so at the beginning of meetings to make sure everyone was an active participant and ensure everyone stayed focused on the topic at hand. It was a great reminder to actively focus on what was going on during the meetings so they could be as productive as possible.

As leaders, we need to guard against going through the motions and not taking time to focus on the moment we are in. There are so many opportunities to learn in the seemingly little things that happen throughout our day. We should actively be looking for ways to grow and learn throughout the day.

We should also be actively looking for opportunities to coach others as various situations arise. We can become so distracted that we miss the opportunities right in front of us to professionally learn and grow. We should seek occasions to develop and learn and never miss opportunities to encourage the growth of our team. Orison Swett Marden sums this concept up well with this quote:

“Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men and women wait for opportunities; strong men and women make them.”

7. Be the best version of you

One thing I have come to realize about fitness is that it is incredibly individual. An exercise that may help one individual grow a particular body part, may not be the best exercise for another individual. Much of fitness is trial and error and discovering what works best for each individual as it relates to diet and exercise. 

Each of us has different metabolisms, caloric needs, body shapes, muscular strengths and weaknesses, and genetic abilities. As much as someone may set out to look or perform just like their favorite fitness model or athlete, no two of us were created exactly the same. Invariably, some differences will dictate the way we perform or look. There are also many external factors such as stress, time, budget, social factors, etc. that can play a part.

We should strive to be the best version of ourselves and not to try and look, act and perform, exactly like someone else.

Leaders need to embrace their strengths and understand their weaknesses and not try and be someone else. It is good to try and emulate the positive characteristics we have seen in those we admire and have learned from. However, we need to do so while being true to ourselves and genuine in the process. 

I remember watching a leader I respected and wanting to be like this leader in several ways. I tried to replicate something this leader said and did, and I failed while doing so because I was trying to copy the leader instead of copying the characteristic that I admired and make it my own. I came to realize that I was a different person and while I could emulate the characteristics I admired, I would never be just like that leader - I was different. While there are many leaders I respect and consider myself a student of, I will never be just like them. My background, education, life experiences, etc. are different and so are yours. 

We should all strive to be the best versions of ourselves. We can learn from those we respect and admire and desire to emulate specific characteristics. While doing so, we need to remember that it is our unique skills and talents that make us who we are. The world does not need two of the same person but rather each one of us to become the best leaders we can be. 

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of someone else.”

-Judy Garland