A CEO Challenge: Work Hard, Play Hard, Train Hard

We work hard. We play hard. We train hard. That is the mantra among employees at The Principal this year. It is my personal challenge to them to take action to improve their physical fitness and, if they are already active, to take it to the next level.

The Road Race Challenge

For the second year in a row, I’ve challenged employees to run or walk a road race. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5K, 10K or a full-marathon. I want employees to experience the rewards of an active lifestyle.

More than 2,000 people around the globe took part in 2012.  Nearly 2,100 have signed on so far this year. One of the best parts is that I get to run alongside them during periodic fun run/walks like the one pictured here. I will also run with employees in the IMT Des Moines Marathon races in October.

Larry run 1

A wellness culture

Like most Fortune 500 companies, we know it makes good business sense to have healthy employees. Wellness programs can reduce health care costs, improve productivity and boost morale. So we promote wellness in a number of ways including annual health screenings and ongoing education about eating right and being active.

The numbers from our annual health screenings show we’re on the right track. We’ve seen measurable reductions in high risk markers like blood sugar and high blood pressure. The results continue to show us that body fat remains the number one risk factor for many employees.

The Road Race challenge is a fun way to encourage employees to take action and make fitness part of their lifestyle long-term. It could be walking, running, biking, whatever they prefer. The key is to start small so it’s sustainable and then take it up a notch each year.

I run so I can lead  

I am comfortable putting the challenge out there because I walk the talk (or run it).

I’ve been running with co-workers at The Principal over the noon hour for more than 25 years. Not only am I better off physically, I believe running makes me a better leader. It clears my head so I can make better decisions. I am a better husband, friend and neighbor because I run.

Running—or any form of exercise for that matter—also levels the playing field.  It helps me step out of the typecast role of CEO, which can be isolating. I’ve found it doesn’t matter what the day job is, out on the running path, the bike trail or the basketball court, everyone is the same.

I want employees to see me hitting the pavement. And I want them to experience the benefits I enjoy from a daily fitness practice.

Larry run 2The need for balance

We have hard workers at The Principal but we all lose effectiveness if our lives aren’t balanced.  Fulfilling work, in my view, is only one of three primary dimensions that make up a well-rounded person. The other two are a healthy personal life with family, friends, spirituality and wellness which helps to maintain a physical and mental sharpness.

All three components must be in the correct relationship with each other to have balance. If one gets out of whack, the other two suffer.

The Finish Line

The Road Race challenge is proving to support all three dimensions.  Last year many employees thanked me for the challenge, saying they may not have participated in a 5K or 10K without it.  Nearly one-third of the responses were comments about how the challenge had improved relationships with spouses, children, neighbors and coworkers.

That kind of feedback and seeing the smiles on employees’ faces after they’ve crossed their own personal finish line, those are rewards that come from working hard, playing hard and training hard.