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David Irvine

March 8, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight

Optimal Health: Increasing Your Organization’s Aerobic System

David Irvine, bestselling author of five books including The Authentic Leader, offers his thoughts on the difference between health and fitness when it comes to your organization:

As a former competitive distance runner, I learned that there is a difference between health and fitness. Health is when all the systems in your body are functioning optimally, especially the aerobic system (your bodies capacity to use oxygen). Indicators of health are energy, endurance, and calmness. Fitness, on the other hand, is the ability to perform a particular athletic activity. Fitness is about speed and strength: a well-functioning anaerobic system.

Many times during my running career, in an effort to get fit, I compromised my health. My ambition was stronger than my capacity. Injuries, low energy, and a decreased immune system were some of the outcomes of this imbalance. As I matured as an athlete, I discovered that in order for the body to work effectively, health and fitness must both be present and in balance.

Unhealthy people fall mostly into two categories: those who are inactive and over-rested, and those who are over-trained and under-rested. What’s fascinating is that, according to research, both inactive people and over-trained athletes exhibit the same symptoms: low energy, chronic fatigue, a depressed immune system, circulatory problems, susceptibility to injuries, and hormonal and insulin imbalance. The only difference is that inactive people tend to have an excess storage of fat, while over-trained athletes have an insufficient storage of fat.

I use this metaphor when helping leaders improve organizational effectiveness and achieve sustainable success. To succeed long-term, both health and fitness are necessary in organizations and in life. It can be said that leadership represents health, while management represents fitness. Thus, different indicators measure an organization’s fitness and it’s health:

Organizational Fitness:

  • Strategy
  • Expediency
  • Marketing
  • Performance
  • Operational Excellence
  • Profits
  • Technology

Organizational Health:

  • High Trust
  • Flexibility
  • High Energy
  • Endurance
  • High Morale
  • Employee Engagement
  • Low Turnover

Organizations focus on the fitness side of the equation when ambition exceeds capacity. Fitness is also easier to measure than health. Managers are reluctant to examine health because it’s hard to quantify and it can point to failings of leadership. An over-emphasis on organizational fitness and an under-emphasis on organizational health will result in imbalance. Indicators of organizational imbalance and ill-health include: exhaustion, disengagement, high turnover (or worse, people “quit and stay”), distrust, an over-reliance on employee engagement surveys and an under-reliance on conversations, lack of focus, inflexibility, and unclear priorities.

To gain some balance and improve your organization’s health try some of the following strategies:

  • Spend less time in front of your computer and more time in front of people.
  • Narrow your priorities. Bring more focus into your work.
  • Start talking about your espoused values, and, more importantly, how you can live them.
  • Whenever you take on more work, ensure you have the resources and the capacity to get it done.
  • Start taking people for coffee, and stop taking them for granted.
  • Catch people doing things right. Shine a light on success.
  • Talk with people, not to people. Listen more; talk less.
  • Tell more stories, especially when they focus on success.
  • Appreciate good people and good actions. Recognize. Acknowledge. Cherish.
  • Replace entitlement with gratitude.
  • Decide that all blame is a waste of time.
  • Bring a servant mind-set to everything you do.
  • Get more rest.