Are You Fit to Lead?

Three years into my military career as a junior Captain I was put in charge of the Battalion signal platoon. These were riflemen who served as signalers within the Battalion, usually because they showed the intelligence and technical aptitude to deliver this critical service but occasionally because the rifle platoons wanted to side line someone. The signal platoon delivered a vital capability – any infantry unit that can’t communicate is effectively useless. Unfortunately many of these technically excellent soldiers had decided that fitness was low on the priority list, a view reinforced by the Battalion moving into armoured vehicles. With wheels and tracks who cared about running anywhere? Unfortunately for the comfort of the platoon I didn’t share their analysis and pretty soon we were not only one of the fittest platoons in the Battalion but certainly the fittest signals platoon in the Brigade. The reason I prioritised fitness was not as part of any vanity project or to win a competition but because I knew that in a fight willpower and determination would be critical. These are the characteristics of self-disciplined warriors not shirkers. To build willpower and resilience we ran, marched cross-country, hit the gym and got ourselves in shape.

These demands are really not so different from the demands of high performance competitive businesses today. The business environment is volatile ambiguous and uncertainty, there is always jeopardy and individual and team performance can provide significant competitive advantage. Understanding the link between physical and mental fitness, and maintaining our personal fitness can help us be more effective leaders. Here are 3 reasons why:

Willpower. When all else is equal willpower is the factor that usually determines success. How much do you want it? Hard physical exercise is great precisely because it becomes an exercise in willpower. It hurts but you can’t quit. The great thing is this takes little time and no resources. Simply run or swim, cycle or row hard enough that it hurts and see if you can summon the willpower to keep pushing though the discomfort. Doing this sort of exercise once a week – even for 5 minutes helps build willpower and the self-confidence to overcome a challenge.

Resilience. There is a growing body of research evidencing the links between cognitive functions – mental agility and physical fitness, particularly cardio vascular fitness. (See for example this research article linking the benefits of aerobic activity with both physical and academic performance Effective decision-making, memory, regulating emotion and withstanding stress are all boosted by physical fitness. Staying fit is about the single easiest thing a leader can do to boost their performance under stress and uncertainty.

Communicate. Effective leaders are role models and communicate far more by what they do than what they say. Setting the example is critical. Being physically fit communicates positive energy and demonstrates self-discipline and commitment.


Metris Leadership helps businesses build high performance teams, optimized for the challenges of the 21st Century because great teams provide standout competitive advantage.

To find out how we could help you contact us at

Related Posts

Freedom Inside Constraints

The Legendary Basketball coach John Wooden[1], would begin each new season by sitting down his new players and demonstrating to them how they were to tie the laces on their shoes.  Surely unnecessary? – These athletes had been playing the game for years. Wooden’s point, was that for many things…

Read more
Women obeserving passers by
What Do You Notice?

  ‘Clarity begins with realizing what we do not notice—and don’t notice that we don’t notice’.   Sir Alex Ferguson the legendary former coach of football club Manchester United was quite clear in his leadership philosophy and approach to coaching that the ability to notice what was going on, to…

Read more
Man laying bricks
Good or Bad? Your Choice

‘Attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference.’ Winston Churchill   There is an old story about a little girl walking past a building site. As she walks by, she asks in turn 3-workmen what they are doing? The first replies that he is laying bricks. The second…

Read more
What Do We Remember?

‘…a war begun for no purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was…

Read more