Fit to lead: What fitness can teach you about leadership

Fit to lead: What fitness can teach you about leadership

Louis Sylvester applies the principles he used as a personal trainer to get his clients “fitter, stronger, healthier and generally feel better about themselves” in the enterprise space.

As a personal trainer, Louis Sylvester realised the principles he used for getting his clients “fitter, stronger, healthier and generally feel better about themselves” can be applied in a wider context.

“I thought to myself surely this technique and approach could be totally transferable to any business and I was curious to try it out as I moved into the working environment for local government,” says Sylvester, who is now business improvement specialist at the Auckland Council.

Sylvester has worked for the Lims Sports Spectrum in Hamilton and then went onto Les Mills and the YMCA. He also helped train one of the teams for the America's Cup Yachting Syndicate 'Stars & Stripes' in the first campaign, and then the 'One World Challenge' in the second campaign.

He was approached by the Rotorua District Council to work as its aquatic and leisure manager and also served as board member for Water Safety New Zealand. He then attained qualifications as a Kaizen practitioner.

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A representative from the Auckland Council who toured his office at Rotorua encouraged him to apply for the newly created business improvement specialist roles.

“Coming from a strong health and fitness background came in rather handy and has been one of the many tools which I have used to capitalise on in terms of contributing towards increased staff engagement,” says Sylvester.

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“Anyone in management knows that high engagement levels of staff play a significant role in the success of that business or organisation and its culture. It is almost universally accepted that the success of a business is measured in financial terms, so the question has to be asked: How can exercise and corporate health in general increase business success including financial success?”

Technology is certainly playing a great role today in helping corporate people get into shape.

Louis Sylvester, Auckland Council

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He shares with CIO New Zealand how he applies these insights at work.

“Much research over recent years shows that for every dollar spent by a business on improving the health of their employees, there is a return on that investment of up to six dollars,” he says.

“That's a 600 per cent return and that's a very favourable return on any investment."

"Healthy staff are more productive, happier and cost you less. What's more, healthy employees stay with your company...It is a win/win – win for the staff member and a win for the employer and business."

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Exercise assists in the reduction and management of stress, which can be a common condition in any workplace, he says. It also increases energy levels, improves health, quality of life, enhances self-esteem, increases self-confidence and challenges individuals to set goals and achieve them.

“Exercise increases social interaction and a business, like a sport, is a team setting where a group of people work together towards a common goal,” he says.

“One of the keys areas I have focussed on has been in developing teams who value and respect each other and know what each person brings as a skill set to play the game.

"People working together towards a common goal provide the essential ingredients for a strong business culture, which includes increased morale and increased productivity.

“Our staff engagement factor went from 20 per cent to 80 per cent in less than one year and productivity shot through the roof.”

He says it's important to remember, however, that exercise doesn't change what is required to complete a job or work related task but it does allow the ability to deal with these tasks and perform them more efficiently and effectively.

Corporate health is becoming more and more accepted as an integral part of maximising business success.

Louis Sylvester, Auckland Council

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“Exercise has the potential to drastically affect your business in the most positive and favourable ways and corporate health is becoming more and more accepted as an integral part of maximising business success.”

Sylvester recalls a time he helped saved the organisation money simply by looking at the sick leave programme.

He had introduced a health and wellness programme for a three-month trial period, but it was extended for a year. The overall reduction in sick leave was over 41 per cent in the first year, he states.

“That was a reduction of 324 sick days, which was rather significant for a small to medium sized business unit. Prior to the health and wellness trial, much of the sick leave was taken or deemed as extra 'annual leave' days,” he states.

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He explains how he did it: “We used-to-date visual management to show running sick leave totals which were displayed in staff rooms and key work areas. Staff could clearly see the impact sick leave had on the business and helped them understand that if one person was away on sick leave the business had to pay for them to be away sick but also had to pay someone else to come in and do their job due to the nature of the job.

"That's a double whammy to the business and in a local government context to the rate payer. During the three-month trial period we only experienced one day sick leave. So if anyone asks me what's the return on investment? Well, there’s one already.”

For organisations aiming to integrate fitness and wellbeing programmes into the workplace, he says the first step is this: “Meet with the staff and discuss the opportunities and goals together with them in terms of looking to provide a healthier workforce.”

If a business cannot afford a gym subscription then there are certainly low cost initiatives, he says. For instance, staff can be allowed to exercise together or go walking, cycling, running, swimming or playing a sport together during scheduled work time.

Provision of meditation space or stretching space can also be beneficial, he says, but discuss this with your staff. “It will help you quickly identify what is the most appropriate initiative that best fits the needs or desires of your work place.

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“Providing visual management progress boards for staff who are keen will also help in seeing the 'before' and 'after' progress of individuals and will help in staff encouraging each other to reach and achieve personal goals set.”

He finds it interesting that technology can impact health and productivity both ways.

People sit all day in front of the computer and check work mail and accept calls outside work hour, he states.

At the same time, “Technology is certainly playing a great role today in helping corporate people get into shape.”

He has first-hand experience on this: “My own smartphone has an app called 'Fitbit' which calculates how many steps I have taken for the day, distance walked, calories burned and pending what I have eaten, shows calories in versus calories out.”

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