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Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Importance of Exercise

Regular exercise is the best way to stay physically healthy, and it also offers psychological benefits to counteract stress.

Exercise can increase your sense of being in control, strengthen your self-esteem and help you regulate your emotions. It offers a healthy distraction from stressful situations while inducing the relaxation your body needs to dissipate its stress hormones. Regular exercise also leads to improved effectiveness as a leader.

In research involving executives around the world it has been found those who exercise regularly rate significantly higher on leadership effectiveness, as judged by their bosses, peers and direct reports, than men and women who exercise only sporadically or not at all.

Winning is all in the Mind

Sir Steve Redgrave CBE won gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000. He has also won three Commonwealth Games gold medals and nine World Rowing Championships gold medals.
Redgrave is one of only four Olympians to have won a gold medal at five consecutive Olympic Games. This achievement has led to him being hailed as Britain's greatest Olympian.

Redgrave's new book, Inspired relates the stories of fellow sportsmen and women that spurred on his success.

Here is his view on the importance of self-belief:

'When we came off the water having just won the gold medal in Sydney, the BBC was waiting to interview us. "When did you know you'd won the race, Steve?"

"After 250 metres." "D'you mean with 250 metres to go," Steve Rider corrected me, clearly thinking I'd be crazy to imagine the race won after only an eighth of the distance. "No, I mean after 250 metres," I said. I wasn't joking.

I know that some people thought I was arrogant. That's a peril of self-belief. It might have appeared arrogant in that exchange with Steve Rider, but it was only the truth. I genuinely felt that at the time, mainly because the belief doesn't spring from nowhere. It arrives because you work like a dog for years and years and years.

Self-belief is probably the most crucial factor in sporting success. The bodies are roughly equal, the training is similar, the techniques can be copied, what separates the achievers is nothing as tangible as split times or kilograms. It is the iron in the mind, not the supplements, that wins medals.'

Or as Muhammad Ali, one of Redgrave's heroes said: ' Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have late-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.'

The Importance of Leadership Development

A crucial element in turning talent to business advantage during this recession is leadership development. It is no exaggeration to say that today's economic crisis is a leadership training and testing ground, under the most stressful conditions. So every organisation must step up and use the current economic situation to test and develop its next generation of leadership. At the same time, it must also make sure it is looking after its current leaders, communicating with them and supporting them

Here, insights from Robert Thomas's book, Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to Become a Great Leader are especially appropriate. In the book, he argues that what matters most in leadership development is not just innate capabilities but what one makes of experience—particularly the traumatic and often unplanned crucible events that challenge one's identity as a leader.

As Thomas writes, "The ability to find meaning and strength in adversity distinguishes leaders from nonleaders."

The point is to turn the current economic situation into a learning experience that can benefit current leaders, as well as those who will form the next generation of leadership. Burt Tansky, CEO of Nieman Marcus, noted recently: "I've been telling many of our young people who have never been through this [kind of downturn] to study what's going on today, study the kind of things that are being put in place to minimise the stress, because as their careers develop, they're going to have to face some of this again."

The next step, then, would be for organisations to institutionalise those insights into what's happening today and use them to advance leadership capabilities throughout the organisation.

Honda Motor Co., for example, has historically used work projects as the foundation for developing leaders. Honda project managers are expected not only to produce results but also to create a learning contract with the company around the leadership skills developed during the course of the project.

Applied to a recessionary environment, that kind of project-based, experiential approach to leadership development can make young leaders attuned to what they are learning, and help them share experiences with their peers.

It is easy enough to say that companies that can rally their people will have a better chance to thrive during and after the economic downturn. But effective talent management is not simply a matter of exhortation or charisma. Close, comprehensive and scientific analysis of the capabilities needed to achieve high performance is vital.

It's workforce talent that is feeling the effects of today's economic crisis most profoundly. At the same time, this crisis could well be the period when strategic talent management finally comes of age.

Be Aware of How Your Behaviour Affects Others

When leading a group of people, large or small, it is important to have a clear understanding of how your behaviour is perceived by the people who report to you. Continually building your own self-awareness will increase your effectiveness as a leader, and the respect your team members have for you. Take time out at the end of each day to think about how people have responded to you in the interactions you've had:
  • Were they listening to what you said?
  • Did anyone appear to be impatient with you?
  • Did they go silent on you or back off?
These behavioural cues tell you whether your leadership approach is working, or if it needs to be adapted. But to recognize these cues, you have to be looking for them.

It may not register for you immediately that someone has stopped listening to you or that they are getting impatient, because your mind is focused on your own agenda. That is why some reflection time at the end of each day is so valuable so you can learn from the interactions you've had that day.

You will know your self-awareness is increasing when you:

  • Hear yourself making comments about your own behaviour, such as: "I think I may be talking too much..." or "I may have been a little abrupt with my response...".
  • Accept and acknowledge feedback about things you have said or done without reacting defensively or justifying your behaviour.
  • Are willing to apologise when you recognise your behaviour has been inappropriate.
  • Ask for feedback when you think your behaviour is being perceived as inappropriate.