Can Sports and Fitness Training Build Entrepreneurial Leaders?
More people are turning towards entrepreneurship – possibly out of necessity due to a layoff and a stagnant job search, possibly due to the satisfaction that self-employment brings, and possibly due to the technology revolution that is occurring with mobile devices, social platforms, and cloud data storage. So I often wonder: is it possible to build habits and traits to help usher in a spirit of entrepreneurship? A personal fitness program and involvement in team sports can help. Here are some characteristics that can be improved through fitness:
- Resiliency – A 2013 study by the RAND Corporation found that the most fit Air Force servicemen and women had reduced chronic disease, greater ability to adapt to the demands of service, and were less injury prone. As business cycles go up and down, resiliency is also key.
- Adaptability – Anyone who has started their own business knows that you need to have an adaptive mindset: clients quit, cost structures change, technology moves at a lightening pace, businesses close, etc. Anyone competing in sports knows that adaptability also comes with the territory: coaches change their game plans, injuries necessitate a change in physical training and also necessitates a new fight to win back a lost position. Being adaptable, without sacrificing business core competencies and personal core values, is key.
- Mental Toughness – My offensive line coach at Williams College would remind us to grasp the mentality of a “cold methodical killer”. The interpretation is that the line needs to be a stable and consistent group, and not be subject to the emotional ups and downs of the game. The same is true when operating a business. Additionally, exercise can enhance emotional traits beneficial for the business. For example, research has shown that mental clarity, composure and changes in energy are evident within 40 minutes of commencing exercise (O’Halloran, Murphy, Webster, 2004). Other research has shown that exercise has positive effects on mood as fast as 10-30 minutes, due to improved blood flow, which brings vital oxygen and glucose to the brain.
- Facing Challenges – Navy SEALS are trained to face challenges head on, under duress, and while experiencing cold, wet, and life threatening conditions. Their fortitude is legendary, and needs to be included in any leadership-fitness list. Forbes contributor Brent Gleeson elaborates on his experiences as a Navy SEAL and his transition to business in his article, Five Reasons Why Good Fitness Makes for Better Entrepreneurial Leadership.
- Industriousness and Team Building – Practicing with your teammates for a big game, training for an obstacle race with a buddy, and preparing to launch a new product all have similarities. In order to be successful in either arena, a leader needs to structure a plan and a time table to meet pre-determined goals, and to encourage a cohesive team mentality. Since exercise helps enhance mood and focus, it can also help with the preparation and design necessary to envision a new product launch.