Ten reasons why senior leaders must be fit to fight

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- What do senior leaders do when they find they are too busy to fit in consistent daily workouts? I have watched many senior leaders in my short 25 year Air Force career, and I find all the good ones find a way to fit it all in.

If you're normal like me, sometimes you don't fit it all in and it's always a juggling act. The reasons why we rationalize ourselves out of staying fit are many and varied. It begins with a short-notice DV visit or a crash project and the rest of the week snowballs. Before long we tell ourselves we'll get to it next week, and the next week is delayed week to week to week.

If we are not careful, we can fall into a trap where our fuzzy logic can trick us into believing we are too busy or too important to trifle with fitting in exercise. This logic is flawed and makes us weaker leaders. The worst symptom of a problem brewing is the excuse that our self-professed "state of busy-ness" makes us somehow more exemplary; it does not. The fact is: trying to rationalize ourselves out of a missed workout demonstrates poor time management, a lack of advanced planning, or maybe worse, a simple sign that we've lost our mental edge or desire to push outside the comfort zone.

The truth is: we must take personal responsibility for our schedules; and we must make staying fit both a professional and a personal priority. Fitness is a matter of pride and personal honor as well as promoting life-long health and well being. Sure, we are all committed to fighting the Global War on Terror, but there should be no scenario--short of being outside the wire in the AOR--where we can't commit to regularly scheduled fitness activities. My purpose here is not to preach, but to persuade leaders of every stripe, including civilians, enlisted, officers, and contractors, to stay fit. It is a duty required of all leaders as good wingmen, leaders and warriors. Here are ten very powerful reasons I'm hoping you'll use to get your leadership engine started:

10 - Lead from the front. If you profess to be a leader, you need to be visible to your people. What better way to demonstrate to your superiors, peers and subordinates you are fit to lead by working out with them. Attendance at group Physical Training (PT) quadrupled when I made it a priority to attend at least once per week. More importantly, the unit PT test pass rate topped 96% and the number of perfect scores surpassed the combined number in the rest of the wing. You can get the buzz started if you get into organized PT in your unit.

9 - Inspiration. For those of us who don't get to fly the world's most awesome aircraft, we have to find different ways to inspire people to take it to the next level. Staying fit and motivating others through personal example and leadership on the PT field extends well beyond those boundaries and will truly inspire you. As a result of being accessible to my younger officers and Airmen, I learned so much more about their lives, their struggles and how to lead and mentor them. I got many opportunities to visit in a non-threatening environment which helped me better take care of and understand their needs...this is one great way to take the pulse of your unit.

8 - Humility. Although I try to exercise most days and am a self-professed PT animal, each time I work out, I am humbled by my physical limitations. There are many more who can run, swim and bike faster and lift more, but facing that fundamental truth each day hasn't made me weaker. In fact I am much stronger in knowing my weaknesses. For me, exercise is cleansing and cathartic. It balances me as a leader. It frees me of my ego and opens the door to selflessness. It reinforces the concept of equality in that I am no better or worse than any of my people.

7 - Productivity. Many leaders only fret about how much time is lost in the office when folks are out doing their PT. Old-think is expecting our Airmen to do PT on their own time. New-think is making time available during the duty day to allow for PT since the AF clearly expects Airmen to be "fit to fight." The truth is, necessary hours are spent doing PT; the results I've seen make it clear productivity goes up rather than down. Studies show people are more productive and think more clearly when blood flow via PT is increased to the brain. Leaders must encourage "getting away from the desk" to PT, then empower your Airmen do the rest.

6 - "The Four Engines." Indeed, PT is a physical event, but it isn't just physical for me, and nor should it be for you either. Good PT should charge all of your wingman's four engines--physical, spiritual, emotional and social. I cannot tell you how many "Hail Marys" or "Our Fathers" I've said to myself during workouts or tough spots in marathons and Ironmans, but my workout often becomes my church and place of refuge to think and pray. I have experienced the whole range of emotions during workouts and races; grieved for lost loved ones; recalled memories and times from my childhood. I come up with my best ideas on the run or somewhere in my workout zone. PT can also help build stronger bonds by socializing with others and make you physically stronger as well. I wouldn't be nearly as good a wingman without PT.

5 - Courage. Exercise could be described as physical struggle with your own body to improve it. Through this struggle, one develops the mental toughness that leads to courage both on the battlefield and in the office. Leaders will find executing tough workouts will help them build the mental stamina needed to endure long hours at the office or the inevitable "death by Powerpoint." More importantly, being stronger physically improves self-confidence and the ability to withstand the incessant demands placed upon leaders by the demanding environment we live and work in.

4 - Warrior Spirit. Isn't it a given that you must be strong both physically and mentally to be a great warrior? Being physically fit is a necessity for combat, but also a must to excel when preparing for or supporting those who may go into harm's way.

3 - Excellence. Aristotle has taught us excellence is a habit and not a one time event. Senior leaders did not become senior without some very consistent high performance on-the-job over many years. Being fit is no different. The path to life-long good health and well being is paved by consistent, disciplined exercise and dietary habits--not one-time events. The key to being fit comes from:
- the routine process of
- exercising the privilege of arranging your daily schedule
- to make fitness a priority
- that makes the cut line of your life. Failure to execute this fundamental task will doom your bid to be promoted to the ranks of the fit.

2 - Service Before Self. Can there be any doubt the Air Force is a team sport? It has often been said "there is no 'I' in team"; however, if you look close enough, there is "me" in team. The corollary to the "no 'I' in team" is: every member of the team must perform to the limits of his or her capabilities if they are to win as a team. Mediocre members do not a winning team make. The key to being a good teammate lies in your readiness to be a good teammate to others. Getting fit is your passport to be the best teammate you can be. If you can take care of yourself (the "me" part), then you will be a better teammate and wingman to others.

1 - Integrity. Joseph Ellis, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Founding Brothers, tells us how in the fragile early American Republic "Personal character was essential in order to resist public temptations." Being fit is essential to character development. And the term "fitness for command" has a physical connotation as well as the other character traits we associate with good leadership.

The problem is, more demands are placed on our time as we advance into the leadership ranks. The question I have for you is: when you unclutter your schedule, is the workout the first thing to go? I guarantee that if you resist this temptation vigorously, you will help keep your sanity as well as your integrity. Stick with it and I hope to see you at the track or in the gym.