Management Skills: Be Fit

Fitness and business management
“You can get fit AND get promoted Little Mac,” said Doc.

Getting into shape is a good business decision. And this isn’t one of my weird and abstract metaphor posts that’s really about mental fitness or business fitness or something. This post is about why I think maintaining physical fitness is important for managers.

First, a bit of background on my health. I slowly gained about 30 pounds during my first seven years at my company. As I wrote in this post, at my annual physical the doctor told me I had high LDL or bad cholesterol, low HDL or good cholesterol, high triglycerides, and my blood sugar was high enough to be pre-diabetic. Yikes.

That physical was my wake up call. I visited a registered dietitian and got serious about my diet. I visited a physical trainer and got serious about exercising. A year later I wrote this short and somewhat sarcastic post about how I lost the 30lbs and managed to keep almost all of it off. Yay me.

But how does health and fitness relate to the workplace? Isn’t getting ahead at the office all about working longer hours, eating faster food, and being more efficient?

I’ve found that fitness and professional effectiveness don’t have to be at odds with each other. In a lot of ways, the healthier me is the more productive me at work – a win for both the company and my career – even though I’ve had to take some time away from work to get into shape.

First, what’s in it for the company? Well, dead employees are not very productive employees, so there’s that. Healthy employees also lower healthcare costs for employers and other employees. A lot of employers like mine now offer discounted insurance rates for employees who take healthy steps like annual physicals or quitting smoking. My company even put a gym at our corporate headquarters to make fitness more convenient for employees.

Fitness is also healthy for a career. Managers work long stressful hours. Exercising fixes both problems for me. I get stamina for the long hours and an outlet for the stress. And my best ideas often come to me when I’m exercising. My quiet morning runs, with no electronic interruptions, give my brain time to work through the creative process and solve tough problems.

I’m also more confident when I’m healthier. My clothes fit a little better, and I feel a bit more optimistic during the work day. That little extra swagger is good for any management career.

Lastly, to use a bad pun, I have to address the elephant in the room. I wouldn’t be writing an honest blog if I didn’t say that it seems like fitness and physical appearance might play some role in career advancement. Let me be clear – I don’t think it’s moral or even legal to make a hiring/advancement decision based on someone’s physical fitness, and I would personally never consider someone’s appearance in a hiring/advancement decision. But I am pretty sure it happens in the real world. And if I’m going to be on the receiving end of someone’s immoral or illegal choice to include appearance in a decision on my career, I want to do my part to improve my odds.

Like a lot things in life, fitness comes down to priorities and habits, and I put health before work on my priority list. That means I run a few miles and show up to work at 9:00am now instead of grabbing a bagel on the go and showing up at 8:00am. I’m now a faster, stronger, more confident, and more optimistic leader for my organization. No one noticed I showed up an hour later, but plenty of people noticed the missing 30 pounds.