How to become a corporate athlete

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Managers need to be both ‘sprinters’ and ‘marathoners' – delivering energy over short periods and long hours

Think back to when you began your working life. You were young, fit and full of energy around the clock. You may have run, cycled or worked out before and/or after work. You could drink like a fish, go out (or work) late, you could even have eaten cardboard and your metabolism could handle it. As we age and grow professionally, however, the demands on our energy are greater as our responsibilities grow. So why do many of us pay less attention over the years to our wellness and wellbeing?

The world of the executive is the life of an endurance athlete. The main difference between executives and athletes is that executives enjoy far less recovery time!

Managers need to be both ‘sprinters’ and ‘marathoners'; delivering high bursts of energy over short periods of time as well as over the constant grind of long hours, late nights and travel. Today’s increasingly complex and volatile corporate world places more pressure on managers and their teams to perform, often having to deliver more with less.

Faced with unceasing pressure to perform and little down time, executives need to have physical stamina for frequent trips abroad, repetitive and long meetings, and adrenaline-pumping presentations. They require the mental strength to manage stress and the resilience to cope with uncertainty; adopting a ‘corporate athlete’ mindset can be the key to professional and personal success

Jeff Archer, managing director of The Tonic, a company London Business School works closely with to deliver its executive education training, champions a different approach. Archer makes the case that each person should adapt slowly to what works for them and steadily refine their individual wellbeing plan as they go. It is an approach that can lead to dramatic improvements for participants, but most importantly, improvements that last.

Archer teaches that improving health and wellbeing requires looking not only at physical fitness, but at endurance, resilience, coping with stress and pressure, sleep and diet. Increasing hydration levels and establishing a sleep routine is an easy, effective place to start. Eating regularly and well is another simple tactic to feeling more energised at work. Adding some form of structure and incentive to your fitness routine will focus your mind outside of the world of work. All these tips sound simple but they’re often things that executives, who operate on multiple time zones and are in and out of meetings all day, forget.

Just thinking like an athlete – always in training – is in itself an important paradigm shift that may dramatically improve one’s life and professional performance.

Ironically, wellness is a theme that many participants on our executive education programmes don’t consider much when they apply. It is only when they start the journey that they begin to understand that health and wellbeing underpin all their other development and future success. As they change longstanding habits many immediately feel and perform better.

Whether at mid-career or senior management level, implementing a personal health and wellbeing plan can be the answer to preventing burnout and increasing your personal productivity. For HR managers a balanced health and wellbeing policy can lower staff absenteeism and boost morale.

As both sprinters and marathon runners, executives with the corporate athlete mindset can aim to set a new personal best.

Adam Kingl is executive director of thought leadership, executive education at London Business School