When my trainer Vanessa asked me to do 10 burpees during our first session, I had visions of those white rectangle cloths I used when my kids were infants. Vanessa was talking about the squat-push-up-n-jump burpees that go by the same name, but the reference was apt since the last time I worked with a physical trainer was when my second son was born nearly five years ago. Losing the baby weight was the justification I needed for what can otherwise seem like the unnecessary expense of hiring a professional trainer (“just do it” comes tauntingly to mind). This time the training sessions resulted from a bet with myself, “If you raise the the venture capital for Little Pim, you’ll get a trainer for 8 weeks.” I wasn’t exactly sure if this was a motivator or a deterrent to raising the capital, but either way, the capital had been raised and now I was stuck doing burpees at 7:15 on a Wednesday morning.
That was four weeks ago. Call me an obsessed entrepreneur, but my weekly sessions with Vanessa have started reminding me of key management lessons, ones that were directly applicable in my company. Since we are now venture backed, my team and I — who made it through the narrow canals of start-up life into open water — are now deep in metrics, accountability and generally transformation into a high-performing company. I’ll tell you, it isn’t a walk in the park, it’s more like a walk on a StairMaster!
Here are a few lessons that seem to apply to both my “sweat” and “sweat equity” workouts:
1) Create a culture of success
After my first session with Vanessa, she sent me an email with my “in-between sessions workout” which seemed designed for an Olympic athlete. I could only do about half of it, which left me feeling like a total failure. When we next met, I requested she tweak it so that it was a set of exercises I could accomplish. She did, it worked, and the next time I felt like a winner! Something to keep in mind when setting new higher goals at work. Make sure they can be reached, or you are creating a culture of failure when they can’t.
2) Resist the urge to be negative
In growing a company you have to try out many new things, and hopefully a few of them will spur significant growth. Nothing kills new ideas as fast as negativity… yet when Vanessa asked me to do deep knee squats while catching a 12-pound medicine ball and other things I really didn’t like, I noticed I had to fight back the urge to say, “I don’t like these, can’t we do a different one?” Negativity is a very natural, self-preservation reflex, but one we need to fight if we want to grow (or in my case, tone). This message is driven home in the classic business growth book, “What got you here, won’t get you there” where negativity is deemed a trait that must be shed if you want to excel. Agreed.
3) Be willing to look silly
Thing that stifles growth in companies is people not wanting to take a risk, for fear of looking stupid or silly if it doesn’t work out. In working with Vanessa I have had to do butt kicks and high knee skips across the entire gym and back, while fellow runners or weight lifters get to look dignified at their quadriceps machines. A good reminder that you sometimes have to risk looking silly to get results. And I need to set an example of that for my team and try a few crazy ideas myself.
4) You work harder if you like each other
My trainer and I chat while I do my reps; I like hearing about her double-life as a trainer and graphic designer. People like to feel a connection with the people they are working hard with. It’s important to foster bonds at work so people will enjoy working there. And it makes the tough reps easier to get through.
5) Set goals and give positive reinforcement
Vanessa and I determined right from the beginning of our work together which parts of my body we were going to try to improve (list too long for this blog…). So we have a sense of shared gaols that keeps me on track. “You are doing a great job. I can really see improvement since we started,” she wrote at the end of one of my in between workout emails. I found myself beaming as I read it, and feeling doubly motivated to get to the gym. I made a mental note to thank my awesome team when I got to the office.
When my eight sessions are up, I won’t have a six-pack, and at work we’ll likely still be doing the burpees and butt kicks needed to ramp up our growth. What I DO have is a stronger core, and a great reminder that both at the gym and at work, it’s important to set goals, work toward them with people you like, get positive reinforcement along the way, and sometimes be willing to make a fool of yourself in service of accomplishing something that really matters to you.