Building Leadership Muscle

My arms are sore.

Not run of the mill sore because my workout was hard, but really sore.

Sore to the point where it hurt just bringing a cup of coffee to my mouth for a sip of coffee in the morning.

So sore that even as I am typing these words, I am having to take a break and stretch my triceps.

600mg of Ibuprofen four times a day and a Biofreeze massage at least three times a day sore.

Achy sore triceps. That is how I am feeling as I am writing this post.


The Back Story

Many of you know I am an avid exerciser. My workout of choice these days is Orange Theory, a heart rate workout where the goal is to be 84-91% of your target heart rate for at least 12 minutes of a 60 minute class.

My usual workout cadence is to take 2 to 3 classes every week. In a typical workout I will burn around 700 calories, but the best thing for me is how I feel about an hour after my workout. I have energy, and that positive happy feeling that only endorphins can provide.

However, I took the month of July off from Orange Theory for two reasons. First, I felt like my body just needed a rest. In addition, we were going to be traveling for some vacation, teaching, and work commitments, so I did not try to find a gym.

I did do some light jogging and played my fair share of golf, but in the month of July really nothing more than that on the exercise front.

Then we got home and I said to my wife, “We need to get back to the gym!” So last Thursday we signed up for a class.

It felt really good to get back into the gym. The workout was a really good one that focused on the tricep muscles and some endurance running. Nothing I had not done before. I did not really use too heavy of a weight, nor did I push myself to any extreme.

But the next day…two… three…four... and five…

Did I mention how sore my arms are?

Application to Leadership Development

This morning I met with a client who completed an emotional intelligence self-assessment in a workshop with me a few weeks ago and he scheduled some time to talk more in-depth about what his report was communicating.

For the most part, my client had emotional intelligence scores on average where most people score. This is a very bright and articulate person who has a good understanding of how emotions impact his relationships and decision making.

He did, however, have one competency that was significantly lower than the other 14 that are measured by the tool.

As I asked him about how this lack of emotional awareness showed up in his leadership life, he shared stories where the skill just did not properly develop. He has been using other emotional intelligence competencies to compensate for the lack of the one deficit, so he gets along well in work and life.

However, he told me that he wanted to begin to work on the area he was not using, so I gave him 2 new exercises to help him begin to develop this new emotional intelligence muscle.

After describing the “workout” to him, we entered into a time of practicing the new behavior. When we finished, I asked him what he thought it was going to be like for him to execute this on his own.

He said,”Honestly, I am a little bit afraid and I know it is going to be painful, but I know that if I can get stronger at this I will be a better leader for my team.”

He had some skill in this area already, he had just not exercised it in a while. So the pain he is describing is the breaking down of, and subsequent building of, muscle.

Everything he needed was in his emotional intelligence package. It just needed to be strengthened.

Indeed some pain and soreness along the way, but in the end, a much more self-aware leader.

I shared a thought with him that I want to leave you with as you consider developing your own leadership muscle:

Most of our fear comes from the exaggeration of bad consequences.

Now, before you finish reading, pause for a moment. Go back and read that bolded sentence again. Let it brew in your mind a bit. See if you can find a place in your leadership life where this is happening.

We play out this story in our minds, imagining the worst possible outcomes of what will happen to us, to the point of being irrational. We make things up in our minds that just are not true, then we work to convince ourselves that we are right.

While you might get a little sore once in a while after working out a muscle that has not been used much, you will live…and you will be stronger for having worked on becoming a better, more effective, and wise leader.