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Fit to Lead: How to make discipline your superpower

Where do personal fitness and leadership skills intersect? For Andrew Momon, campus pastor of Victory Midtown, in Atlanta, Georgia, the two are inseparable. Physical fitness is not about building muscles but developing personal discipline—the kind of discipline in small things that makes for sustainable leadership. As he points out, there’s a spiritual benefit to physical health as well, and it looks different for everyone. Andrew recently sat down with AVAIL Media Host, Virgil Sierra, to talk about his new book, LeaderFit.

AVAIL: When did you become passionate about fitness and health?

ANDREW: I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and moved to Atlanta when I was right around 12 years old. I remember being a little guy, a little unsure of myself, a little bit shy and introverted—moving into an area with one of the best high school football teams in the nation. I asked my dad, “Hey, I want to get bigger. I want to get in shape. How do I do it?” And he gave me a very fundamental answer to that: “You’re going to have to get disciplined about doing something every day.” He coached me to start doing pushups every morning and every night. I started at 20 pushups, and every week I would add five. As I rolled out the bed, I would do my 20 pushups and get my day going. And then, right before I went to bed, I would do those 20 pushups. It got up to where I was doing about 260 pushups every morning and every night as a 12-year-old. So, it was ingrained in me, if you want to grow into something, you have to be committed to it, it just becomes a part of you. That’s how I lived my life even early on.

AVAIL: So, building on that, how do you think leadership and fitness are connected?

ANDREW: What I’m not saying is that you compare your level of fitness to somebody else’s level of fitness. And I’m also not saying that fitness is simply relegated to a physical activity only or always having strenuous exercise as a part of it. What I am saying is that, when you ask yourself the question, Am I fit? what you’re really saying is, Am I able to respond to the challenges of life and of leadership with strength and confidence when the moment requires leadership from me? I believe so many people miss moments because they’re not prepared to respond to the challenge at hand. What we try to do is to get ready in the moment. When we need a direct response, when we need someone to actually step up, it’s too late to get ready. We need to stay ready to keep from getting ready. I’m not just talking about physical fitness. How many books are you reading? How many articles are you reading? What about leadership development tools? There’s a direct correlation between the state of our health and our ability to lead at a high level.

AVAIL: Can you talk a little about some of the examples you’ve seen in which a leader’s physical health actually intersects and impacts their spiritual, mental or emotional health?

ANDREW: I think the most obvious thing is that fitness becomes a stress reliever and equalizer. When you’re working out, you’re sweating, you’re releasing those toxins that create stress and that even create disease. You’re also releasing endorphins. We all have to release our stress somewhere. A lot of people will choose outlets that are not healthy and beneficial and may be counterproductive to them. When it comes to fitness, you also have something that is building you up at the same time, and it’s making you stronger. Because I’ve developed this muscle—the muscle of discipline—I can finish, I can push through. Discipline is my superpower. It’s not about you being the most talented. It’s not about you knowing everything. It’s not about you even having all the connections. Can you commit to finishing a process that you’ve started? Our ability to push through uncomfortable, temporary moments of pain actually yields a great return on the investment of our efforts.

AVAIL: So, we’ve got two extremes: people who don’t care for their bodies and say, “I’m going to get a new body in heaven anyway,” and those who make an idol of health. Why do you think this is?

ANDREW: You know, we talk about balance a lot. Personally, I don’t fully ascribe to the idea of balance. I want my lifestyle to be one of harmony. There are always going to be seasons and times where things are unbalanced because certain times call for you to do more in ways that you couldn’t have predicted. There’s no way to just balance that out. But what you can have is harmony. I need to make sure that I’m intentional about taking time on the other side of that and instituting things in my everyday life that bring me to a place of harmony, to a place of peace.

When we get to heaven, I truly believe God is going to look at us and say, “What did you do with the time that I gave you? Did you waste it? Did you eat yourself to death? Did you work yourself out to death? Did you only spend time in the gym, only trying to build the external but not building the internal? Did you make sure that you were not a mean Christian? Did you abuse those who were on your team?”

AVAIL: Why do you think that sometimes leaders take their physical health for granted?

ANDREW: Leaders don’t always realize the correlation between fitness and their productivity. Not to mention, somebody is always watching you. The reality is people actually listen more to your lifestyle than they listen to your words. For me, what happens a lot of times is that people will see me from the outside, not knowing what I do. The way I dress, the way I operate, the way I work out—people’s first guess wouldn’t be that I’m a pastor, right? It opens the door. A lot of times, people don’t understand that their fitness and their lifestyle actually either opens or closes the door for people to see what kind of discipline they walk. I believe that my lifestyle fitness gives me an edge in my leadership life.

AVAIL: What are some principles, even wisdom, that you’ve discovered in Scripture about health and wellness?

ANDREW: There’s a somewhat familiar verse of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 9:26, from The Passion Translation, that says, “For that reason, I don’t just run for exercise or box like one throwing aimless punches, but I train like a champion athlete. I subdue my body and get it under my control. So that after preaching the good news to others, I myself won’t be disqualified.” I hear so many things in that scripture. Number one is that I’m not just doing this for exercise. So, let’s be very clear. What I am doing is training myself like a champion athlete, because I’m going to need to win this game of life. I’m going to need to make sure I’m able to show up as my best self. I’m making sure that I’m not letting the circumstances of life drive me to what I’m going to do. I’m letting my calling, drive me to what I’m supposed to do. And here’s the last part of this principle—which is very important to me: I don’t want to be disqualified. We’re disqualifying our witness because people are looking at us and they’re saying, “Why would I follow that?” Instead, we need to give somebody a picture of something better than where they are.

AVAIL: What would you say to someone who says they don’t have enough time to “subdue” their body, like Paul is talking about here?

ANDREW: Number one is that you have to start somewhere. It’s not always about the intensity. It’s about the consistency. What do I mean by that? You don’t have to try to do it like I do it. You don’t have to try to get out there and work out for 40 minutes. But what you can do is take a walk. What you can do is three pushups and add one every week until you build yourself up. Comparison is the enemy of our progress, but so many times we’re comparing ourselves to other people. It’s never too late to make progress because progress is simply a step further than where you were in the last moment.  The other last thing that I would say is that true fitness and leadership are really not things you do. They’re a state of being. It’s not about how much you’re going to sweat. It’s really about who you’re looking to become. On the other side of your challenge, who are you going to become? And we all have the opportunity to become something better by taking that one step. Let discipline be your superpower.

AVAIL: You’ve mentioned the concept of discipline a few times. Can you talk a bit about the intersection of discipline and leadership?

ANDREW: I think a lot of times we disqualify ourselves knowingly and unknowingly because we haven’t operated in discipline in areas of our leadership. What I really want us to understand is that discipline is transferable. If you can establish discipline in one area, what happens is that you’re able to carry it over in another area. When I’m working out, that discipline that allows me to push through an uncomfortable moment is the same discipline that allows me to deal with something in my pastoral leadership journey, my business leadership journey, my home or my marriage. When I know that we need to deal with something tough and we need to walk through something, I’m going to be disciplined enough to push through the small opportunity of pain or discomfort to get to the place of great results. So, I just really want to encourage all of us to start establishing very small disciplines because they all start small and they build upon each other. When we really get that desperate, what we’ll find is that it becomes ingrained in us and that we’ll find ourselves operating on autopilot in a good way, because now we’re not thinking about it. Our lives are actually set up in the right way, and we will show up really well everywhere we go.

AVAIL: Any final words for our readers?

ANDREW: If I could say one last thing, it’s that we need support. I think about a term we use at the gym. We need “spiritual spotters.” A lot of times we get in trouble because we’re trying to do something on our own—or we think we’re by ourselves. Make sure that you don’t get crushed by the weight. Don’t let this moment go by without tapping into the resources and people—spiritual spotters to help you to condition yourself, to win not only in your personal life, but in your leadership.

 

This article was extracted from Issue 5 (Spring 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.

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