No pain. No gain.

That mantra shaped the approach that athletes embrace in training. The harder you work, the better you get.

Trouble is, as Jack Groppel and Ben Wiegand write in a recent white paper for Wellness & Prevention, Inc., it does not work so well. It can lead to anxiety, depression, burnout, and a shortened career. The same applies to what Groppel and Wiegand refer to as "corporate athletes."

The difference is that while athletes have embraced "sports science"--a more enlightened way of training that focuses on the whole person not simply the body--corporate high performers and entrepreneurs have not embraced it.

As Groppel and Wiegand write: "Numbers drive everything; last year's records become this year's baselines, individuals must top themselves annually. Every moment requires sustained attention." Brutal, eh?

The solution, say the authors, who are both faculty members of the Wellness & Prevention, is to focus on the total person--physical, emotional, spiritual. They claim, and their approach has been in use for years--and currently by Johnson and Johnson, which owns Wellness & Prevention--to create a more well-rounded leader or employee, a "corporate athlete who is "highly engaged, higher performing, healthier, and more energetic."

Ready to sign up? Who wouldn't be?

Focusing on health and wellness in the work world does make good business sense. Studies show that focusing on wellness can reduce stress, illness, and medical costs. The challenge is how to do it, other than committing to an entire life change.

And here's where Groppel and Wiegand come up with some very tactical and practical solutions. These include:

  •  Serve low glucose snacks
  •  Give people mini-breaks before entering another meeting
  •  Encourage people to walk to meetings on different floors
  •  Offer "health coaching" programs to teach meditation, yoga, and health principles
  •  Give people a half-day off before taking a new assignment

These are all good for starters, but they do not fully address the leadership equation. That is why I like the work of my friend Stew Friedman at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. For more than a decade, Stew has been teaching "Total Leadership." Like the wellness concept, total leadership focuses on the whole person--work, home, community, and self. Friedman has a long track record of success helping executives come to a greater sense of self-understanding that enables them to manage and lead more effectively. 

The operative principle with Friedman's work is harmony. That means finding satisfaction in your life from all that you do, not simply work, but your whole life.

The biggest challenge for leaders everywhere is time. 

So often I have seen entrepreneurs devote themselves more to others than to themselves. They do not make enough time to enjoy life, but also to gain a perspective on what is important. That is where the work of Groppel and Wiegand, as well as Friedman, serves good purpose.

If we want to achieve our goals, the gain should outweigh the pain.