Fit to Fight, Fit to Lead: Are You The Best Leader You Can Be?

By Brigadier General (Retired) Maureen LeBoeuf, Ed.D. & Colonel (Retired) Joe LeBoeuf, Ph.D. , Sunday, January 01, 2017

In the military it is an essential job requirement to stay in good physical condition. As matter of fact, it is “sine qua non” to leadership effectiveness. Soldiers expect you to be able to “hang” with them physically and will be unforgiving if you cannot.  In my experience, however, this essential job requirement has not always been the case.  In 1976 when I entered the Army, there was little if any emphasis placed on physical training (PT).  When we did PT, it was usually comprised of some simple calisthenics, the daily dozen, followed by a run at a fairly slow pace, called the airborne shuffle.  It was ugly, painful, and often done in combat boots.  Fortunately, over the years, greater and greater emphasis has been placed on PT.  It is not uncommon to hear soldiers referred not as just fit, but as athletes, even elite athletes.

During a recent visit to Fort Bragg, I learned about the Army’s Special Operation Forces Tactical Human Optimization Rapid Rehabilitation Reconditioning Program (THOR3).  It is a program specifically designed for soldiers in special operations units, our elite athletes.  For sure, the primary goal is to increase combat effectiveness, but as important, being fit reduces manpower loss due to injury and disease and reduces lost training time as the result of injury.  These soldiers have direct access to certified strength and conditioning specialists, physical therapists, and performance dietitians.  When they deploy, they take basic strength training and fitness equipment so they can sustain their fitness workout in remote sites.  Once they arrive they communicate with a coach at Fort Bragg who tailors their workouts based on all of the available equipment.

While emphasis is placed on PT in the Army, there are times when it can be a challenge to work out.  When I was the Master of the Sword (Director and Head of the Department of Physical Education at West Point), I had a lot of meetings; matter of fact, it seemed my day was often one long meeting.  It was often difficult to find the time to workout, but I made it a priority; my job required that I do.  Not only was exercise important to me physically and to my overall well being, it was important for my staff and faculty and especially the cadets to see me working out, setting the example, in the fitness center or just running around post. I know that I was a better leader, a better soldier and a better person because I was in good physical condition.

The benefits of regular physical training are well documented.  Physical fitness is linked to all other types of wellbeing.  The bottom line is if you work out, you feel good, and if you feel good, you will do well in most aspects of work and life.   However, it is not unusual to see individuals in high-level positions in business and industry who are overweight and significantly out of shape.  The demands of these positions can be extremely time consuming, and staying physically fit can quickly get squeezed out of one’s to do list.  Add to that the global nature of business and ubiquitous nature of technology with the expectation that one is available 24/7, makes it difficult to fit in a workout into an already busy day.  So, are these individuals really fit to lead?  Are they the very best that they can be for their employees, their business, and their families?  Frankly, it seems pretty clear; the answer is no!

The major difference between the military and business is that physical fitness is a part of the military culture.  Being in great physical condition is valued and respected; it is badge of honor.  Matter of fact, the Army provides a patch that can be worn on one’s fitness uniform, for those who achieve high fitness standards.  So, if you are a leader in business and want to create a culture of fitness it begins with you. 

So, what to do? If you are out of shape, the idea of getting in shape can be daunting.  Even the strongest of New Year’s resolutions to get into shape do not often survive the harsh reality of life.  Six weeks into the New Year, life has taken over and that shiny new treadmill has quickly become an expensive clothes rack.

OK, all is not lost; there is hope if you are able to make a few commitments to self.  Here are the principles of exercise that you may find helpful when thinking about and planning a fitness regimen:

  • Progression – systematic increase in workload.  For muscular strength you must increase in weight or repetitions.  For cardio, increase intensity by distance or duration.
  • Regularity – regularly scheduled training sessions.
  • Overload – you must stress your systems, increase the amount of work you place on the systems.  Example, if you are training to run a mile, then you must run farther than a mile.
  • Variety – participate in different activities; vary your routine, this will help prevent boredom.
  • Rest – the body must rest in order to heal itself.  When weightlifting, it is recommended that following a session you should rest 48 hours before the next session.  This doesn’t mean you take a nap!
  • Realism – don’t do too much too soon, this often hampers progress and adherence to an exercise program.
  • Balance – you must work all of the systems, cardio, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility.
  • Specificity – if you are going to run a road race, then you must be running; if you are going to be tested on certain events for example the push-up or sit-up you, must train for these events.

Set a goal for yourself; it might be as simple as taking the stairs instead of riding the elevator. Get a Fitbit® (or other fitness monitoring device), it will help you keep track of the number of steps you take, flights of stairs climbed, and get immediate, positive feedback on your progress.  Very often when getting into shape, folks try to do too much all at once in diet and exercise; it becomes overwhelming, especially if you haven’t done anything physical for a while.  Don’t underestimate the value of small, simple changes.

As a result of the culture of physical fitness in the military, soldiers are fit to fight.  Questions you need to ask yourself.  Are overweight?  Are you getting quality sleep?  Are you eating well?  Are you exercising on a regular basis?  If you answered “no” to these questions, are you the best leader you can be?  Are you fit to lead? If not, put that donut down, get up, and get moving!


Colonel Joseph LeBoeuf, Ph.D.

Expertise:Leadership education, leader development, organizational change and culture, talent development and management, and facilitation and coaching Experience:Joe has over 46 years of leading, leadership consulting and teaching in the military, government and non- governmental organizations, and academic institutions. He is a parachutist and Army Ranger with numerous command and staff... Read More +

Brigadier General Maureen LeBoeuf, Ed.D.

ExpertiseLeadership development, wellness, keynote speaker, executive coach ExperienceMaureen spent 28 years in the U.S. Army, where she held various staff and leadership positions, as well as flying UH-1 helicopters in the continental United States and Europe. Most noteworthy was her assignment as the Professor and Head of the Department of... Read More +

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