4 Exercises to Help Build Your Leadership Fitness

Published: Mar 14, 2019
Modified: Jun 01, 2020


Your ability to continuously develop as a leader will have a direct effect on the impact you have as a leader. However, when it comes to development, today’s leaders are faced with two challenges. First, there are multiple competing demands on managers, resulting in a lack of time to commit to their growth. Second, many leaders don’t know where to start or which activities to pursue. The result of these obstacles is that leadership development may be an afterthought or people may participate in ineffective activities.

A leadership fitness mindset

To address the first challenge, recognize that development does not need to be time consuming to be effective. However, if you want noticeable, sustainable results—not only for your development but your impact as a leader as well—you must have a leadership fitness mindset.

This mindset starts with strong self-awareness, includes focused direction, requires commitment and a willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone, and embraces a steady diet of development activities. Commit to ongoing development and forego a check-the-box approach. There are important parallels between physical fitness and leadership fitness that should inform how we think about our development. In addition to commitment, both require passion and an ability to overcome obstacles. Both require setting goals and having a game plan. If you want results in yourself and for others, you must put in ongoing effort.

Growing as a leader

Regarding the second challenge, there are opportunities for leadership development all around. You just need to know where to look. Here are four exercises that will help build your leadership fitness:

Take your pulse. Take a good, reliable 360º assessment every 12 to 18 months and use the results to set goals and establish your game plan. This process will help narrow where to start on your development.

Learn more about your business. Ensure you understand your corporate priorities and how you contribute to them, spend time with a colleague from another department to learn about his or her priorities, and stay current on the competition.

Get involved. Volunteer for a task force or a project at work that will both leverage and challenge your current skills.

Stay sharp. Make sure you understand your company’s strategy, goals, and objectives and how your team contributes to achieving them. Know who your competitors are and what differentiates them. Regularly listen to top leadership podcasts and read several business books per year.

These exercises should not be about checking a box. Think about how you can incorporate these and others into your regular leadership fitness routine. Look for daily and weekly opportunities to hone your leadership skills. Focus on what you are learning, not just what you are doing. Consider how you think or act differently as a result of the exercises.

For learning to stick and results to be realized, you need opportunities to practice, get feedback, and reflect on this new knowledge or skill. Each aspect of this learning loop is critical as it helps make sense of new information.

Frequency and repetition matter. Focus on getting a little better every week, and before you know it, you will be noticeably better at some key leadership skills. You have to be willing to take that first step, though.

About The Author

Timothy J. Tobin, author of Peak Leadership Fitness: Elevating Your Leadership Game, is a learning and leadership development professional committed to helping individuals and organizations reach their greatest potential. He is currently vice president, franchisee onboarding and learning at Choice Hotels International, where he oversees the hotel opening processes and learning strategy and programs for all franchisees. He was previously vice president of global leadership development at Marriott and held leadership roles at Baker Tilly (formerly Beers Cutler) and Booz Allen Hamilton, where he designed and implemented a variety of talent management solutions. A frequent leadership speaker, he has served as an adjunct professor for more than 20 years.