It is that time of year when many make New Year’s Resolutions. Probably the most prominent resolution made is something around losing weight, including dieting and/or a commitment to exercise more. Most of these resolutions won’t be acted on or achieved, and those that do will probably be short lived. One of the reasons for not achieving the resolution is wishing for the results rather than acting with intent (see Chapter 1 in Leadership Lessons From the Medicine Wheel). After all, most are looking for that Magic Pill or special drink mix that will miraculously transform their body overnight and have the pounds effortlessly drop off.
Of course, there is no magic potion that will transform your body overnight. It takes hard work, determination, focus, and time to achieve these sorts of goals. Believe me, I know. Most are not aware that I had a very, very bad motorcycle accident back in April 2001. I mangled my lower right leg, and broke my right shoulder, and several other bones. After almost a month in a hospital bed, it then took me another 3 months to learn how to walk again, and then 4 more months of continuing physical therapy to be able to walk without a cane.
During those first 4 months when I was in a bed and then a wheelchair, walker and a variety of other contraptions, I gained over 40 pounds. Over the next several years my weight would become a constant battle. For someone who had once trained law enforcement emergency response teams, I was extremely out of shape. It wasn’t until 2013 that I learned that I was diabetic, not because I was overweight, but because I had insulin resistance, which caused me to gain weight. But just a change in diet, which was mandatory, wasn’t enough. As I was delightfully able to discover, it takes a lot more.
In 2014 I had a couple of bouts with some illness that kept me out of commission for a couple of months, followed by an injury to my foot that limited my mobility. Fortunately, I found a new doctor, seeing him for the first time in the fall, and then had my 4-month follow-up at the end of January of 2015. At that time, I weighed 260 pounds; 70 pounds more than when I had my accident, and 80 pounds more than I should weigh. My doctor looked at me and said “Gary, I want you to lose 30 pounds by the next time I see you in May. You can do this; you just need to commit to it.”
After discussing his “request” (demand?) in more detail and mapping out a plan of action, I took off with a commitment to make things happen. I made a lot of behavior changes in my life, and my wife was supportive in my efforts, and, in fact, joined me. I didn’t make the 30 pounds my doc had asked for by May; it was only 13. But this was a start, and he was ecstatic! He kept encouraging me in my new healthy behaviors, which was extremely motivating. He took the time to analyze my lab tests and made some adjustments in my medication. He also encouraged me to come into his office every couple of weeks and weigh. Every time I saw him he is always celebrating with me the little successes and encouraging me to keep at it.
The Results — As of the first of December, 10 months later, I had lost 55 pounds, and still losing. With four and a half months to go for the 15-year anniversary of my bike accident I was only 15 pounds away from being where I was back then. I am the lightest I have been in 14 years! I can’t tell you how much better I feel and how much more energy that I have in my daily routines.
So why have I been so successful this time around when in the past I, along with many others, have failed? I believe that it was a few key things, and here they are:
Intent – I made my health a priority. Buying exercise equipment, working out daily, coupled with lots of visits to doctors and physical therapy was a significant amount of investment of time, money, and other limited resources. Sure, perhaps I could have used those resources in other ways, but if I am not healthy I cannot do my best of looking out for my family, supporting my clients, or serving my community.
Sustainability – I also had to realize that losing weight and becoming healthy was not a short term project, especially the drastic amount that I had to lose. This required me having a vision of where I wanted to be in the future and then setting some long-term goals. I also realized that I might hit some plateaus and have some pitfalls along the way, but that if I kept focused then I would get where I wanted to be. After all, being healthy is not a destination, it is an ongoing journey.
Action Alignment – In order to achieve my vision, I had to determine the actions in my life that I needed to Stop, Continue, or Start Doing in order to be successful. I had to keep in mind that I had to do more than simply do things differently; that I would need to do some different things, and some of these new things could not exist if I was still doing old things.
Change Behaviors – in order to enable the actions that would allow me to be successful, I would need to change many of my behaviors. Once again, the Stop, Continue, Start model would come in handy as I stopped doing unhealthy behaviors and started doing healthy behaviors. It took time for those new behaviors to become comfortable, but with each day it becomes much easier.
Relationship Support – My wife’s support was very important in my accomplishments. In fact, she joined me in my quest to become more healthy and has also lost 25 pounds in 2015. We encourage each other in our workouts, as well as support healthier eating behaviors. We greatly limited our eating out, other than for special occasions or when we travel. Instead, we chose to find ways to fix quick, easy, and healthy meals at home when we find those times when we are tired and tempted to run out for a meal rather than cook.
Ongoing Assessment – Ann and I are constantly measuring our progress. Sure, we measure the obvious; daily weight, days exercised, how long we exercised, calories consumed in a day, and calories consumed in a meal. But we also measure the right things, such as carbs consumed in a meal, as those can have a dramatic impact on weight gain for me. We are also measuring some of those underlying things that aren’t so readily easy to see. These include our blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as several other indicators that can signal some underlying issues that could impact our health down the road.
Expert Guidance & Support – This is perhaps the biggest game changer of all. If Dr. McClure had not been brutally honest with me about my need to lose weight, it probably wouldn’t have happened. I most likely would have continued to bounce around in the 240 to 260 weight range, just as I have for the past 14 years, perhaps even going higher. He has also referred me to a variety of other specialists to help me with specific issues, including physical therapy to work on (fix?) the mobility in my right shoulder that has been lacking for over 14 years. Together, this team of experts have helped me uncover and remove roadblocks which I was unaware of their existence and impact. But it all began with Dr. McClure’s assessments and his brutal, but gentle, honesty and his unending support and encouragement to get better.
So what does all of this have to do with you as an executive leading your company? Everything! The steps that I outlined above are the same steps that we use here at RDS to help our clients execute their Vision and create a healthy culture. If you want an organization that performs at exceptional levels, then you have to ensure that it is healthy. To be brutally honest, most organizations aren’t. That doesn’t mean that they are sick; just that they are not as healthy as they need to be in order to become an exceptional performer.
Don’t be fooled by appearances, either. I had no idea that I had insulin resistance, other than my weight gain. For years I thought I could just diet and exercise and the pounds would come off, but they didn’t; I’d gain, instead. And as many of my issues were unable to easily be seen by me, many of the things that hold back organizations go unseen and unobserved by the executives in the organization.
This is why it is so important to measure the underlying health of the organization, not just the results of your activities. It is all too easy to fall into the belief that everything is ok until suddenly it just isn’t, and things begin to fall apart. In most cases the signs were there if only the right “tests and lab work” had been done, or the right expert would say “you have a problem that you need to address right now.”
All of the research that I’ve reviewed, and remember, we’re talking about well over 1500 research documents and thousands of studies, all say that it starts with the top leader of the organization and their senior leadership team. If this team is not operating in a healthy manner and focused on the things that really matter, then the organization will not perform at its best. Sure, there can be the appearances of strong performances and “good years,” but these are rarely sustainable and are far from where the organization could consistently perform if it was healthy.
Your senior leadership team is the very heart of the organization, and their lack of health will cause all sorts of other issues within the organization; they could be a heart attack just waiting to happen. But the likelihood that the team members are going to notice that there is a problem is slim, simply because they are too close to the situation. And because it is the senior team, who else in the organization is going to speak up and tell them that there is a problem?
This is where, just like with my doctor, the “expert” help with their battery of assessments comes into play. The health of the senior team should be assessed on a regular basis by someone from outside of the organization who is an expert in assessing senior teams. This person needs to not have anything at stake so that they can ask the hard questions and point out the hard facts and truths. They need to be someone who can tell the senior leadership team that they “need to lose 30 pounds by the next time I see you.”
Finally, keep in mind that, as with losing weight, once you have accomplished your goal, the real hard work is just beginning. It will be too easy to backslide into old habits. If you don’t continue to assess your health on a regular basis, then you risk having unseen issues begin to eat away at your progress.
Ongoing exceptional performance doesn’t just happen. It takes commitment, a lot of hard work, and ongoing focus to maintain progress and achievement. It takes making a healthy culture a priority. After all, if your culture isn’t healthy, your organization will not be able to perform at sustainably high levels of performance. It will not be able to serve its customers, it will not be able to take care of its “family,” and it will not be a positive influence in its community. Having a healthy senior team and culture is what being an exceptional and high performance organization is all about.
Make a Great Day!