Annie Button, professional content writer and branding aficionado, explains the benefits of outdoor swimming for business leaders.
There are many theories around what makes a good leader and the leadership qualities that are needed to be an effective manager in the workplace. The best bosses inspire and motivate people; they build successful teams and empower others to realise their potential. With a clear vision, and always acting with integrity, they make confident decisions that drive the business forward, celebrating team and individual wins whenever the opportunity arises.
Positive leadership skills can be built in many different ways, so how does outdoor swimming fit into the picture? Well, it may surprise you to hear that there are a lot of similarities between your ‘work ethic’ in the swimming pool and how this translates into your professional life. Developing your swimming skills has one of the toughest learning curves of all sports. You need patience, perseverance and a dash of optimism in order to progress and reach your goals. You can’t learn how to swim in a one-hour swimming lesson any more than you can become a great leader by attending a two-day seminar.
One way to take advantage of all the benefits offered by swimming is to join a local club or find an outdoor pool. Increasingly, many outdoor swim enthusiasts prefer the privacy of their own pool with unrestricted access to the facility. “A lot of people mistakenly believe that an outdoor swimming pool is a poor investment, but this is not the case at all. A high quality, bespoke outdoor swimming pool installation will add value to your home and provide your family with many years of reinvigoration for mind and body,” explains one leading pool builder.
By way of illustration, let’s take some of the key leadership skills and see how these can be developed and honed with regular swimming.
According to Swim England, “swimming provides challenges and rewards accomplishments, which helps children [and adults] to become self-confident and believe in their abilities.” Whether you’ve benefitted from this in your own childhood or are now taking the plunge for the first time, there’s nothing quite like becoming proficient in the water or overcoming a life-long fear of swimming to boost your confidence.
When you are in the water, you are alone. The feeling of self-reliance can go a long way in helping you become a better person and leader. The process of forcing yourself to stay in cold water can also increase your mental strength. Getting out of your comfort zone builds both courage and confidence while giving you a sense of achievement, both physically and psychologically. Become comfortable with being uncomfortable and increase resilience in all areas of your life.
Confidence projects outwards. In order to become a successful team leader, you need to show that you are confident in your ability to manage the team while inspiring others to follow your example.
Serious swimmers practise daily, and often painfully early in the morning. Those who are committed to making progress will stick with their routine no matter how difficult it may be to manage the rest of their schedule around it. Just as a young athlete who attends regular practice will see his personal best improve, so a budding leader who takes responsibility for prioritising what’s truly important with perseverance and dedication will see a return on his efforts.
One former US swim champion and coach sums it up well: “Competitive swimming demands a lot of time, energy and sacrifice. […] Today, I understand that sacrifice and commitment can pay off in all aspects of life, from family obligations to professional. Immediate gratification, while it can seem a great idea at the time, does not always help you achieve your goals.”
Good communication skills start with the body. In the water, your arms and legs need to work together to keep you afloat and propel you along. In verbal communication, your mouth and mind must work together to get the message across. It’s two sides of the same coin. One swimming school explains it in very simple terms: “When you’re taught to swim in a class or on a team, you learn to work with others. You learn from an instructor or by helping others learn, and then you learn to work together to meet your own and team goals.”
In addition to developing self-reliance and confidence, swimming teaches valuable communications skills. More than that, it’s a sport that builds people up and allows them to be part of a supportive team. Competitive swimming, in particular, enhances team working, encourages socialisation, fosters cooperation and promotes accountability, all the while elevating individual performance and achievement. The same skills cross over into all areas of life, including the professional realm.
If you are training by yourself, focusing on the activity at hand will give you the mental clarity needed for better communication. When you immerse yourself in cold water, the brain has no choice but to concentrate on the intense sensation of the water temperature. This enforced focus on the here and now positions swimming as an excellent mindfulness exercise.
The constant churning of everyday thoughts that we all experience is known by Buddhists as the ‘monkey mind’, the image being that of our minds swinging from one branch to the next and jumping around without pause. It’s a pretty accurate description of the internal workings of busy leaders (and others too!), and swimming can be used as a ‘physical’ meditation allowing you to remove distractions, slow down and create mental space.
Coping with stress
Finally, it should be acknowledged that the health benefits of cold-water swimming are nothing new – even the Victorians with their ‘bathing machines’ sort of knew about them. However, now that science is backing up anecdotal evidence with research that suggests there are lasting positive effects of a bracing dip in the pool or sea, we know for a fact that outdoor swimming increases the metabolism, leads to better circulation, decreases inflammation, boosts the immune system and reduces stress.
This final point is of particular relevance to individuals in leadership positions. Cold water swimming places the body under physical and mental stress. There now exists evidence to suggest that repeatedly putting your body through cold water immersion reduces the severity of the initial stress reaction over time. In short, regular cold water swimmers become calmer and more relaxed. Better still, this reduction in stress response is transferred to stressful situations in other areas of life, such as in the workplace.
“Leadership is like swimming,” as this article argues. “New leaders are often thrown in and they either sink or swim. As they experience leadership, they often get better at it, but it takes time and a lot of trial and error.” How opportune, then, that we can all use swimming as a potent physical exercise to help strengthen the leadership body and mind.