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Are You Leadership Fit?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Are you leadership fit? I’m not asking whether you can run a mile, do an hour of hot yoga, or do 20 push-ups. Being leadership fit is about being at the top of your leadership game. It requires great balance of both the people and task aspects of leadership. You must be focused, engaged, and adaptive while delivering positive results. It’s about your performance and ongoing personal improvement. It requires you to take an active role in incorporating ongoing development to continuously develop your leadership skills. And it’s about being transformational—both for you and for those you lead.

Enter Peak Leadership Fitness

Peak leadership fitness is an aspirational state built on consistently striving toward exceptional interpersonal and technical skills, adaptability through learning, and consistently positive results. It is built by balancing capability, capacity, and mental toughness. It is accomplished through strong and accurate self-awareness and a combination of relevant activities as part of a regular development routine. Peak leadership fitness allows you to bring your full and best energy to your leadership.

Peak leadership fitness is dynamic and aspirational because once you realize your potential and achieve your goals, you have a new platform, or baseline, on which you can continue to learn and grow. I think that is great news, because it implies you already have a starting point for your leadership fitness, with the potential to further elevate your leadership. It also implies that you have far greater and ongoing potential for growth.

Why Should You Be Leadership Fit?

Great leadership is not about you; it is about those you lead. A key aspect of leadership is engaging and motivating the people you lead. Unfortunately, low engagement has reached epidemic proportions. There are multiple studies that show that a significant amount of employee engagement—up to 70 percent in some cases—can be attributed to a person’s leader. This means that if we can get leadership right, we’ll have a real chance to create an engaged workforce. This becomes a force multiplier, too, where your actions inspire multiple people to strive to be their best and bring their best energy to what they do. Now that’s the type of organization and team I want to be part of.

However, there is much work to be done when it comes to engagement. Many of those same studies that highlight the importance of leadership to drive engagement also show that as little as 15 percent of employees feel engaged. That is a huge gap with significant implications. When you factor in the lost productivity and associated turnover costs, the implications of low engagement quickly add up.

Becoming leadership fit is a major step toward bridging the engagement gap by inspiring those you lead. I have seen this firsthand. People want to connect with a vision. They want to be energized by their leaders. Members of those teams have a tremendous amount of initiative, effort, and commitment. Leadership expert Steve Arneson offers up a profound question that has stuck with me: Do you want to be known as the type of leader who does something to those you lead or for those you lead?

Two Challenges Facing Today’s Leaders

I have worked with, coached, and taught many leaders during my career, and I’ve found that they face two critical challenges when it comes to their development:


Challenge 1: Today’s leaders do not have enough time to focus on development. There are simply too many demands, and development doesn’t just take a back seat—it often rides in the trunk. This is particularly evident with more seasoned leaders who often have so many priorities that leadership development rarely rises to the top. Unfortunately, with the increasing focus on results and demands on leaders’ time, this is only going to become more challenging.

Challenge 2: Many leaders don’t know where to start. This is further exacerbated by a crowded leadership development landscape. It has become increasingly difficult to make sense of which activities will yield the best results. Consequently, many leaders become passive participants in their growth— waiting for someone else to serve up their development.

Some leaders do nothing when it comes to their development, or worse, they invest their valuable time and money on the wrong activities, which includes anything that does not help reinforce or improve leadership. This can be costly both financially and in terms of misdirected effort and results.

Much like your physical health, when it comes to your leadership fitness, what you consume matters. You will not stay healthy by fasting for extended periods or consuming the wrong things. The implications extend beyond time and money to include performance and engagement. It is too easy for leaders to build unhealthy habits around their development and become disengaged from their own growth and performance. The most common unhealthy habit I see leaders engage in is inattention to their development. Most people realize they should focus on their fitness (both leadership and physical), but other priorities often get in the way. Life gets in the way. Over time, this takes its toll and performance suffers.


Let me transition to some good news. Leadership development does not need to be expensive or overly time-consuming. Much like your physical health and fitness, though, it cannot be ignored or neglected. You must take action and build good habits.

Bottom Line

Leadership fitness requires physical energy, emotional connection, and mental toughness. It is about capability and capacity. Capability comes from your knowledge and skills, while capacity comes from your energy and engagement. This all needs to be balanced with mental toughness and a leadership mindset. Your mindset evolves from experiences, feedback, and reflection. The best leaders can effectively manage these attributes and continuously evolve through self-awareness, feedback, and reflection. Peak leadership requires active participation and planning.

So, are you working toward your leadership best? Are you bringing your best energy to your leadership? Are you taking the necessary steps to achieve your peak leadership fitness? If you’re not striving for peak leadership fitness, you may not be working out as a leader.

Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from Peak Leadership Fitness: Elevating Your Leadership Game.

About the Author

Timothy J. Tobin is a learning and leadership development professional with over 25 years of experience. He is committed to helping people and organizations achieve their greatest potential. Throughout his career, he has been directly responsible for the development of thousands of leaders from C-level to first time leaders across multiple industries. He is the author of Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire, and Motivate (Berrett Koehler).

Tim is Vice President, Franchisee Onboarding and Learning, at Choice Hotels International. Previously, he was vice president for global learning and leadership development at Marriott International. Tim has also held senior learning and leadership development roles in multiple professional services organizations both as a consultant and internally as a department head. He has stood up and elevated multiple corporate universities.

Tim has led outstanding teams throughout his career. Programs developed under his leadership have won multiple awards including Chief Learning Officer awards for Global Leadership Development and Innovative Learning, Bersin & Associates awards for Leadership Development Strategy Excellence, Enabling High Impact Learning, Learning and Talent Initiative Excellence, and Operational Excellence, and the Helios HR Apollo award for outstanding employee development programs. In 2017, Tim was recognized for Outstanding Services to the Learning Industry by the Global Council on Corporate Universities.

Tim received an Ed.D. in Human Resources Development from George Washington University, an M.A. in Organizational Management from University of Phoenix, and a B.A. in Psychology from University of Delaware. He also maintains both a SHRM-SCP and SPHR certifications. He has been an adjunct professor spanning over 20 years at several universities including University of Maryland, Catholic University, Trinity University and George Washington University. He has also been a member of several academic and professional advisory boards.

Tim is a frequent invited speaker and panelist and has presented his work at numerous regional, national and international conferences. His writing has been published in diverse outlets such as Harvard Business Review Blog, The International Journal of Strategic Business Alliances, Drucker Forum, SmartCEO Magazine, Leadership Excellence, Organization Management Journal, and Social Psychology and Education, among other academic and popular press outlets.

On a personal note, Tim has completed numerous endurance athletic events including a 4.4-mile open water swim, multiple century bike rides, over a dozen marathons, and more than five ironman triathlons.

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