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Healthy Leadership: How Physical and Mental Health Determine Success

What do Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Richard Branson, Sundar Pichai, and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? The answer is not that all five of them lead one of the most influential companies in the world. Look at them and you know the answer. They look physically healthy and in all likelihood are.

When I started my company in 1993, Jan Timmer was at the head of Philips which was then still considered influential. At the same time, Louis V. Gerstner Jr. - CEO of IBM. He was seen as the savior of the company that once towered over every other company. Neither suffered from obesity, but it comes close. 

Although worldwide - especially in the West - the number of obese people is on the rise, you actually see fitter and more vital people appearing at the top of the corporate world, and it used to be different. It seems that the role of physical and mental health is becoming increasingly important and for good reason.

Why is it important to be physically and mentally healthy as a leader?

They say that if you don't make time for your own mental and physical health, you will be forced to make time for an illness. But that is not the main reason why it is important to be physically and mentally healthy at the top of a company. Nor is it that people at the top want to look better for others and themselves. While this may play a small role for some, it is not the main reason. 

Physically and mentally healthy leaders perform better. They make better decisions, are more effective, manage their emotions better, and are more stress-resistant

Physically and mentally healthy leaders make better decisions

When we are physically fit, we not only experience but actually have more energy. As a result, we are better able to concentrate - for longer periods of time - and even have an improved memory. In addition, stress, anxiety, or fatigue can work against us when it comes to solving complex problems.

Physically and mentally healthy leaders are more effective

Leadership can be physically and mentally demanding on a person. Therefore, stamina of mind and body is important. Adequate sleep, a healthy diet, mental coaching, and sufficient time for relaxation help leaders stay physically and mentally healthy to be continuously effective.

Physically and mentally healthy leaders manage their emotions better

Many decisions we make seem rational, but are not at all. Leaders also make decisions based on emotion and if you are not physically or mentally fit, emotions can mislead you. The hormones serotonin and dopamine play an important role in how we feel. An unhealthy lifestyle can negatively affect our hormone balance and thus negatively impact our emotions.

Physically and mentally healthy leaders are more stress-resistant

A healthy lifestyle and mental health allow leaders to be more relatable, which prevents a lot of unnecessary stress. This is because your body produces less cortisol. This is the hormone that temporarily increases alertness, memory, and energy, but prolonged exposure to elevated cortisol levels can actually be counterproductive.

As a leader, how do you become and stay physically and mentally healthy and energetic?

Becoming and staying physically and mentally healthy and energetic can sometimes be challenging for leaders. Especially if you are constantly on the go or constantly working against an overloaded schedule. Yet it is easier than you think and takes less time and energy than many would like to believe. If you can schedule a meeting with a client, you can also schedule a meeting with yourself to do what it takes to get and stay physically and mentally healthy.

Physical and mental health is all about prioritizing the right nutrition, adequate exercise, and your mindset.

Proper nutrition:

Even though many great leaders decide to live a vegan existence, this is absolutely not a requirement to get in shape. Counting calories or going on a diet usually does not offer a solution either. Common sense and learning to listen to your body properly is usually enough. I myself lost 25 kilos in 8 weeks and explain below how I did it. Common sense played an important role in this. 

Everyone knows that alcohol, manufactured food and anything you take too much of cannot be good for you. I personally am a big fan of anything unprocessed and fresh and if you eat normal portions of that 3 times a day, you can see and notice a difference very quickly.

Sufficient exercise:

If we don't use certain muscles, they become lazy. The more active muscles, the fitter we feel, and the easier we process and absorb food properly. The nonsense rule that you have to take 10,000 or more steps a day is better than doing nothing at all, but of course never enough to really get in shape. Get advice from a holistic personal trainer and see which sport suits you best. Even if you have injuries, there are ways to get enough exercise. 

Work on your mindset

Virtually all great leaders have 1 or more mental coaches supporting them in the background. I too have had the opportunity to support quite a few leaders. In fact, you don't have to be sick to hire a mental coach. They keep you on your toes, teach you to look at yourself better, and give you insight into your own thinking patterns.

Adequate rest and physical and mental health

People who know a lot about meditation claim that leaders should meditate for at least 30 minutes a day. Unless they are very busy, then leaders should meditate for 2 x 30 minutes.

Physically and mentally fit leaders plan enough rest each day to be able to put things in perspective. They also make sure they get enough sleep. Those moments of rest are crucial to allow the body and mind to balance for a while and process food or emotions. After all, both need rest and time.

A common way to get sufficient rest and sleep is to sleep and/or rest at the same times every day. This way, you teach your body to anticipate immediately when the time comes. This is because your body has a memory and if you always go to sleep at the same time, you will fall asleep sooner and sleep deeper.

Physically and mentally fit within 8 weeks

I had let myself go way too much during Covid and weighed 115 kilos (254 pounds). Unhealthy and overeating, a little too much alcohol, and virtually no exercise were starting to take their toll, and one day I decided to do something about it. I had the privilege of traveling to a warm country and brought along a holistic personal trainer who provided the right exercise and nutrition. The mental process I could do myself. 

The result was that in 8 weeks, I lost 25 kilos and felt completely comfortable in my skin again, literally and figuratively. As a result, I had much more energy, could concentrate much better, experienced less stress, and slept much better. 

This is the result if you train twice a day six days a week, eat healthily, and work on your mental well-being.


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