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Fit to lead: how corporate athletes train to win

Jon Treanor BA (Hons) Dip Psych FInstLM

Two managers racing

Leaders can't do the best job for their employers if they're stressed out and unfit for work. Jon Treanor BA (Hons) Dip Psych, and Fellow of ILM, shares his tips on how to stall stress and understand your employees more effectively

Being indecisive can seriously affect your ability to be a leader. Being a leader who has the courage of your convictions, who can make bold decisions – based on carefully evaluated alternatives – and who has the confidence to lead from the front is vital in order to inspire confidence and drive a business to its fullest potential. 

Even if your decisions do not always deliver the desired results, good leaders take the responsibility squarely on their shoulders, acknowledge and learn from their mistakes, and aspire to do better next time.

Leaders are looked up to for inspiration. But being a hands-on leader, who offers help, pitching in where needed, guiding, mentoring and problem-solving takes its toll physically, emotionally and mentally – whether you know or acknowledge it at all.  So how do we make sure we are fit enough – in mind, body and soul – for the increasing pressures of business life?

Stopping stress from taking hold

We all know that work-related stress is ever- present. We may deny or ignore it but we are all subjected to it. It’s also disruptive and usually inconvenient, and it can strike any one of us at any time. Tackling stress is often viewed as too costly for many companies, but the reality is that it costs much more to ignore it. Stress affects performance and leads to absence from work – and it is on the increase.

The main costs for individuals are health impairment, lower income and reduced quality of life. For organisations themselves, the costs can be similarly damaging and punitive, including absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced productivity and uninsured, demotivated staff.

A key part of managing ourselves better and inspiring our staff by example is to include Emotional Intelligence (EI) profiling not only in appraisals but in overall health screening. EI is not new but it is often misunderstood or viewed as a “soft skill”. Conducted in the right way by skilled specialists, EI acts as a gateway to individual employee personal and interpersonal awareness. In short, it is the most effective insight into how leaders deal with the stresses and challenges of everyday life at work. It offers a management framework and comprehensive outline to help provide leaders and staff with strategies for managing stress before it becomes a problem. It has the added value of being measurable and an excellent way of inspiring people to optimise individual performance and development.

Know your employees

Good leaders delegate intelligently, distributing work according to the capability of each employee so that you can enable the best results. Knowing each employee on a personal level also helps you to better understand his or her true work capabilities. This deeper level of personal awareness helps in managing a healthy workload, enabling leadership teams to better manage themselves and their relationships with others.

Forward-thinking leaders and executives are now seeing the value in approaching fitness in the same way as professional athletes – with training, support, focus, and a true 360 degree view of factors affecting performance and wellbeing. EI is now being included as a key motivational and inspirational tool. Supported by mentoring and coaching, it acts in the same way as a general fitness profile and exercise programme. A professional EI profile is designed to promote self-awareness and provide a framework to build personal resilience, stamina, and self-esteem. Combining emotional and physical fitness delivers a much more comprehensive and valuable psychological boost to employees than traditional incentives – and, combined, they can be extremely powerful.

Creating happier individuals that contribute to highly performing teams should be the objective of all leaders. The corporate world can be as ruthless – and is as competitive – as any professional sport, therefore contenders in the workplace increasingly need to be trained and prepared like athletes.  Treating every person as an individual and really understanding their unique tolerances and intolerances is the only effective way to inspire and motivate.
Most people do some sort of physical exercise, and personal fitness programmes are often well-supported and incentivised by employers, for very logical reasons. Our staff’s psychological and emotional well-being is no less important, and top athletes take this aspect as seriously as their physical training.
So should we not be doing the same in supporting, developing and inspiring our staff?

About Jon Treanor 
Jon Treanor BA (Hons) Dip Psych is a former business leader, CEO and Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Jon’s colourful and award-winning career spans the film, music, new media software and technology industries, with more than 35 years’ experience in high-level international senior management and executive roles in companies including Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Corp and Philips NV.

Following qualification as a profession psychotherapist, Jon is now a professional Mindful Mentor and business strategist working with corporations and individuals. In partnership with renowned sports scientist Professor Greg Whyte OBE, Jon co-created the first “Corporate Contender” comprehensive wellness programme for executives, now being delivered at the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP) in Harley Street, London.


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