Leadership and Physical Fitness: The Critical Link

What does exercise have to do with leadership? Physical fitness improves self-image, confidence, and production at work and at home. It’s the foundation of a healthy life. If your employees see that you make fitness a priority in your life, then they’ll know that you’re committed to making yourself the best for them. Leaders embody confidence when they’re physically fit.

I won’t pretend that exercise isn’t challenging for some. It may be impossible for some leaders to do. For the rest of us, physical activity has an unmistakable link with our ability to cope with leadership challenges. Physical exercise builds mental toughness and promotes well-being.

If you’re on the fence about exercising while handling your leadership duties, then consider these reasons to start working out.

Shows self-discipline

When fitness becomes part of your life, you become more conscious about your time. The most precious resource we have is time. As a result, morning workouts become part of the routine. You begin to plan your workouts and how much time they’ll take. Also, you’ll be more aware of your other busy parts of your life.

Exercise produces self-discipline. It takes a disciplined person to wake up at dawn just to work out. Self-disciplined people get ahead in their lives because they’re able to organize themselves most effectively.

I might seem extreme. How is working out linked to leadership? Good leaders are self-disciplined. They learn that from the small facets of their lives, and working out is one of those small parts to maintain ourselves. Think of exercising as refining yourself. I get more ideas while working out than at any other part of the day. Where else do you have that kind of alone time? Or, working out with a friend can improve interpersonal relationships.

If you’re at a loss as to what to do, here are some suggestions:

  • Start going on walks
  • Begin with pushups
  • Do ab workouts
  • Ask a friend to exercise with you
  • Do body-weight exercises

The most important part of being a leader is starting with self-discipline. There’s no better way to start that habit than to start becoming fit.

Presence is important

I had a leader once who was tall, lean, and in good shape. Every time he walked into a room, his sheer presence demanded attention. Even though he was a humble person, he exuded an aura of mastery in the way he presented himself. He walked with confidence, head high, and had a soft demeanor. His root habit began with working out.

You don’t need to look like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or Jennifer Aniston. It’s not about physical appearance at all. It’s about feeling confident in your own skin. Leaders must feel confident about themselves to work effectively. That’s when they become the best assets to their teams and companies. Self-consciousness gets in the way of effectiveness. I still have issues with that in my professional life. However, learning to be physically fit can eliminate one of those factors that contribute to self-consciousness.

The Army identifies “presence” as one of the core leadership attributes. To have a presence, a leader must have a way to exude confidence in their teams. One of the best ways to do that is through physical fitness.

Again, I may be out on a limb. However, leaders who know how to take care of themselves come to lead their teams more effectively. There are more factors than just physical fitness that contribute to the whole of a person. However, the easiest one to change is our physical fitness.

Physical fitness is a base-habit

Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit begins with a story of a woman who wanted to quit smoking. So she replaced smoking with walking. She walked her way to quitting smoking and felt like her life changed. She was an ordinary person with a common problem. Establishing habits applies to leadership too.

Another book I recommend is Make Your Bed by Navy Admiral McRaven. He suggested you start the day by making your bed as the first decision of the day. Everything else that follows is better when that happens. Similarly, if the second thing you do to start the day is to exercise, then you’ve already made the next right decision to start your day. That can build your day into making more good decisions like changing your eating habits, your social media habits, or how you make more critical decisions as well.

Also, being in shape helps you feel more confident. When you make exercise a priority, you’ll see how your leadership style will change. I’m not saying that exercising will solve all leadership problems. It is a base to start.


I believe that you can start a good exercise habit. That good habit will transform into other parts of your life. I remember in college when I didn’t work out as often, and I felt it. When I joined the Army and working out became mandatory, I noticed a difference between those who took exercising seriously and those who did not. Soldiers who engaged in rigorous physical exercise passed their fitness tests, their marksmanship tests, and their basic soldier tasks. Those who struggled with fitness did not perform well on those basic soldier tasks.

Officers were the same way. I have met great officers who have made exercise a priority, and they have soared in their careers. One morning, one of my leaders asked us what we did for exercises that morning. He asked me, and I told him that I had run five miles in just under 37 minutes that morning. It was a good run for me, and I was able to share that with my leader. I have full confidence in leaders who make exercise a priority in their lives.

One word of caution, though. Being physically fit doesn’t make the whole leader. Other factors are in play as well. Regardless, if done correctly, being physically fit will help you feel more confident, more competent, and better prepared to face more challenging decisions.

Do you think that physical exercise affects how you lead? Leave your comment below. Thanks for reading!

6 thoughts on “Leadership and Physical Fitness: The Critical Link”

  1. Sami says:

    I like the way exercise makes me feel.  The step forward is easy, secure and I know I am steady on the spot.  I feel able to tackle anything.  The confidence for me is acquired no other way.

    I, unfortunately, am not always as faithful to my routine as I know I should be.  The commitment to exercise is not at the level that I need mine to be to ensure continued building of my strength and energy. Life gets in the way too often, and I don’t get back in step as quickly as I should. 

    I agree that the value of exercise to handle many life’s stresses is important.  I find that there are more stresses when the exercise program is not strong and regular.  The person who will exercise the personal maturity to stay in the routine that works best for them and produces the best results is by far a stronger leader.  Working with these individuals has always been a blessing and productive for those of us around them.  From where I sit, a physical workout routine is one of the things that a person with a lack of self-confidence can do that will make them more confident. Thanks for the pep talk!

    1. Robert says:


      I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I’ll have more ‘pep talks’ coming your way. Thank you for your perspective.


  2. Toni says:

    I honestly never tied leadership to exercise, but I can see how it can generate confidence and show that you want to be the best you. Both are things a leader should embody. Yes, exercise also shows discipline and commitment; good traits for a leader. Eye-opening article. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Robert says:


      Thank you for your perspective. Being physically fit is an important part of what it means to be a leader. Thank you for your comment!


  3. Dale says:

    Taking the time to stay physically fit is awesome to start with.  But now that you want to mix it with leadership well that is just mind blowing.

    I know I dont work in a leadership role but just around my family I feel ever more confident each and every day that I am working towards my goal.

    Thank you for reminding me how important this journey is

    1. Robert says:


      I’m glad you took some insight from the article! Physical fitness can change the way we look at our leadership roles at home as well. Thank you for your insight!


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