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The connection between physical fitness and leadership

There's a direct connection to physical fitness and good leadership, write Kari Gearhart and Ashley Tappan, who outline five of those connections.

4 min read


fitness and leadership

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As we’ve competed in triathlons over the years, we couldn’t help but notice the sense of accomplishment racers showed as they crossed the finish line. In order to get to the finish line, these people applied key leadership skills to accomplish a challenging athletic goal. 

The journey they took to complete a triathlon told us several things:

  • They were driven by a high-level vision and by specific goals.
  • They were strategic and made time for training and recovery.
  • They had support from family, co-workers, and friends to encourage them.
  • They overcame setbacks — whether it was a bad training day, injuries or life circumstances.

We know from our personal experience and research that being physically fit increases mental stamina and endurance which are attributes leaders must possess. Many studies identify the direct correlation between fitness and success. One study example found that physical activity and fitness had a significant effect on executive function (Sports Science Health 2022).

In addition, a person who is physically and mentally well is better suited to face the difficulties that come with a leadership position. Exercising and clearing your mind of stress allows you to tap into your creative side — sparking new ideas and innovative business strategies.

Knowing all these connections could be made, we designed Fit to LeadTM, a program that focuses on core elements that apply to both preparing for a fitness challenge like a triathlon as well as developing leadership capabilities. Here is a quick summary of the five connections we make. 

The 5 Fit to Lead connections 

1. Take inventory of your priorities

The first step is getting intentional with where you focus your attention and time to ultimately get where you want to go. Taking a “snapshot” of where you are now allows you to determine what you want to be doing and how you want to spend your time, energy and talents. By examining the multiple dimensions of your life (e.g., work, fitness, finance, relationships, fun, home environment, etc.) you can begin to assess your progress toward life goals. Getting this “big picture” view of your life enables you to identify where you are excelling and where there is an opportunity for improvement. 

2. Create vision, goals that inspire you

Leaders know that every successful business has a clear and inspiring vision around which they can rally.  Creating a vision for your future can motivate and inspire you toward daily action in pursuit of your most important career and fitness goals. Once your vision is clear, the next step is setting goals to help you get there. 

3. Build your agility and resilience skills

Whether it’s leading a team or competing in a sport, both take concentration, preparation and the ability to regain your confidence. Successful leaders and athletes require skills to bounce back from challenges and even failures to achieve personal and professional success. Optimizing your mindset to navigate tough situations is one of the most important keys to building your agility and resilience. 

4. Create and maintain your support team

Building and maintaining relationships that are mutually beneficial for your career and your life is key to succeeding as a leader. Whether you’re working on fitness or professional ambitions, supportive relationships are essential to achieving your goals. Think of it like saving money for the future: if you don’t invest consistently, it won’t be there when you need it. Investing time and energy into your support network personally and professionally pays off.

5. Celebrate your achievements

Once most leaders “check the box” on a goal or accomplishment or run across the finish line of a race, they quickly move on to the next goal. Some may skip the celebration step, saying things like, “I don’t have time,” or “It was no big deal.” Working on and taking stock of your progress with your development as a leader and an athlete is a BIG DEAL, and it deserves devoted attention. We encourage leaders/athletes to take the time to reflect on all that they’ve learned and accomplished — and to think of it as a boost for their well-being.

We believe the high return on this synergistic connection is worth the investment. What do you think?


Kari Gearhart is the principal of The Performance Bridge, a workshop facilitator and triathlete, and Ashley Tappan is a professional organizational consultant at Insigniam who coaches and consults with corporate leaders worldwide and swims and paddles in her free time. Gearhart and Tappan co-created the Fit to Lead program that uses fitness as a forum for growing leadership capabilities and they co-authored “REACH – Using Fitness To Grow Your Leadership.”


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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