What a Mountaineer Taught Me About Leadership

Great leaders are constantly learning. They read. They reflect. They network. They study culture, trends, organizations and even other leaders.

But one of the greatest mistakes I see leaders make is focusing almost exclusively on their minds (or souls) to the neglect of an equally important part of their leadership: their bodies.

Let’s face it, leadership is physical. Leading an organization is stressful. It requires energy, stamina and focus. My days often begin with breakfast meetings and end long after the sun has set.

If there is anything I have learned over the years it’s that I cannot ask my body to do what I have not prepared it to do. To put it another way, you cannot lead at a high level if you haven’t trained your body to perform at altitude.



You can’t just stroll idly up the face of a mountain without training. If you want to stand at the top you have to train your body to handle the climb.

A mountaineering friend of mine once told me about his training. Knowing that altitude is especially taxing on the body, he works to be in peak physical condition so that his leadership isn’t compromised on the mountain. He has to be able to perform. People’s lives depend on his ability to lead well at altitude.

The same is true for the leader of any organization. If you’re at the top, you have to be able to handle the impact of the altitude. The rigors of the stress and the schedule are always greater at the top. Great leaders know this and prepare not only their minds for the task, but their bodies.

Personally, I can’t afford to be exhausted by mid-afternoon. Often I have meetings that run into the evening. Stamina and endurance are key. Thats why I run 3-4 days a week. I also watch what I eat. After a recent injury I also began incorporating more cross training into my routine. It’s all a part of training my body to do what I need it to do.


One of the pitfalls I’ve witnessed in pastoral leadership is that many pastors focus almost exclusively on their minds and their souls to the neglect of their bodies. What they fail to realize is how detrimental this is not only to their leadership but also to their spirituality.

According to the New York Times,

“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.  Many would change jobs if they could.”  (August 1, 2010)

In Mad Church Disease, Anne Jackson shares how 71% of ministers admit to being overweight by an average of 32 pounds! The Fuller Institute and the Barna Group found that 90% of pastors work between 55-75 hours a week with 33% admitting that they never work out. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that 33% of those in ministry confess that the stress of ministry has led them to “inappropriate behavior.”

I’m certainly not suggesting that exercise is the cure-all for every issue in pastoral leadership, but I do firmly believe that neglecting this part of our leadership contributes to our failure rate more than we care to admit.

When I fail to work out regularly I struggle with focus and stamina throughout the day, and this fatigue inevitably leads me to make stupid decisions not just at work but at home. Fatigue leads me to be short with my wife and kids. It leads me to avoid healthy community in exchange for a lazy night on the couch. Not only that, when I am fatigued I am more prone to battling with my thoughts, my eyes and my mind. For me, working out not only extends my leadership, it helps me guard my soul.

I am by no means a perfect leader. But I am a better leader than I once was because of my diligence to train not only my mind and my soul but also my body.

Don’t ask your body to do what you have not prepared it to do.

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