Peak Performance and how to keep in shape for leadership

Mar 29 2005 by Sue Cheshire Print This Article

If leaders are to be successful at running a business, they have to be at the peak of physical, mental and emotional health.

All too often we see leaders who are so exhausted, so stressed out and lacking in energy that it reflects on their performance as a business leader.

No longer are chief executives expected to always be "living on the edge".

They have a responsibility to themselves and to their staff to understand their own well being needs.

I believe that the organisation is a reflection of the leader in terms of language, behaviour and attitude. If a leader is seen to take his own health seriously, the rest of the organisation will do the same, reducing sickness absence and raising productivity levels.

Often though, people are not aware they are suffering from stress, or of the situations that lead to stress, but there are techniques and tools that can help you recognise the triggers and manage and control the way your body deals with stress.

The Academy for Chief Executives has been working with a company that specialises in using the latest technology to monitor heartbeat variability.

The system, from Heart Math, works by understanding the impact of flooding the body with negative hormones produced in response to stressful situations, and through measuring heartbeat variability, provides insight about what is going on physiologically.

It is this data that can really motivate a CEO to take positive steps to improve his or her health and thereby the health of the business. Having identified the onset of stress, there are techniques that can control this negative hormone output, such as deep breathing and visualisation of positive outcomes. I've tried the techniques and they work.

Meditation is another powerful tool. It is a wonderful way of clearing your mind, letting go, and then returning to your work refreshed, and I know of several organisations that now have a meditation room.

What is interesting is the correlation between organisations that are exploring ways of helping individuals with their energy levels and the increased level of creativity and productivity within those organisations.

I was discussing this issue with one of our regional chairpeople, Piers Fallowfield-Cooper who is passionate about the benefits of a focused, balanced, stress-free environment that comes directly from the top.

"When a leader is stressed or exhausted it impacts directly on the business," he told me.

"They are less in touch with their intuition. It affects their decision making and the way they deal with colleagues and clients. People become frightened of going to the boss. They may have urgent issues to discuss, but they first have to decide whether or not today is a safe day to talk to him."

"As a business leader I have always done an enormous amount of coaching with my top team. We discussed many things, not just work issues. The real key is not to come up with all the answers but to leave them with questions they find the answers to. As a result we improved the top team performance, they ran the business better, which left me more time to be strategic," he concluded.

At the other extreme you have leaders with a huge capacity for work; they arrive early, leave late, rarely take holidays - and expect everyone else to work the same way.

But is the leader who makes the 7.30am meeting really more inspirational or motivating than the one who can give 15 minutes of his time to a colleague?

Within the Academy we are seeing leaders taking health and well being issues, and their impact on staff, more seriously. If they are seen to go the gym at lunchtime, staff often follow suit.

One chief executive stopped eating biscuits in the office and instead put a bowl of fruit on his desk. Shortly afterwards bowls of fruit began appearing on desks all over the office. To me that highlights more strongly than anything the reflection of leadership attitudes within an organisation.

How do chief executives develop a greater awareness of their own well being? We use modelling excellence to learn from great leaders, but we can also use it to learn from the natural world.

An alpha male wolf may track his prey for hours, but will stop every 45 minutes to rest, play, and recharge, before continuing on his quest. It isn't one long slog, but a number of sprints with rests in between. In this way, you find people will go the extra mile.

We have become more technical, cerebral, and intelligent, and I think we need to reconnect with our own physiology and emotions. Where can we find people who are inspirational, measured and highly motivated, who aren't prone to angry or negative outbursts in the workplace?

Simply asking chief executives to set a healthier example in the workplace is not effective leadership; inspiring them to share their own personal health and well-being journey with their colleagues is.

About The Author

Sue Cheshire
Sue Cheshire

Sue Cheshire is the Managing Director of the Academy for Chief Executives, a confidential learning environment for non-competing Chief Executives and Managing Directors from all sectors of industry, commerce and the 'not for profit' sector. She is a well-known national figure in the enterprise world, with a passion for supporting growing companies.