February 4, 2017
4 Leadership Lessons To Take Away From CrossFit

Racing against a 25-minute clock, I was kidding myself if I was going to finish this CrossFit workout. It tops the list of “hardest workouts of my life” with 50 one-for-one Russian twists, 40 pull-ups, a 400 meter run, 20 shoulder-to-overheads, and 10 power cleans. Oh, and don’t forget those 125 push ups riddled in between.

We’re thinking the same thing right now. That’s a LOT of push-ups. And a lot of everything else, too. Almost every muscle in your body is being tested at some point during the workout. But here’s the thing, I finished this workout in 24 minutes and 59 seconds. 24:59! With only ONE second to spare.

And that :01 is exactly why joining CrossFit was the best thing I could’ve done for my career in management and sales.

CrossFit takes movements from gymnastics, weightlifting, running, and rowing to create a workout with constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. All workouts are completed against a clock, with coaches and other Crossfitters alongside you. It tests you. It taunts you. It’s dang hard.

But I’m not telling you how intense my CrossFit workouts are to show you how strong and fit I am. Rather, I’m saying this to show you what you can accomplish within the right environment. As I finish these truly trying workouts, my desire to do hard things increases, along with my capacity to do them. Because when doing hard things is a part of your daily schedule, it’s crucial to learn how to set yourself up for success.

…when doing hard things is a part of your daily schedule, it’s crucial to learn how to set yourself up for success” -@ferrellneal (Click to Tweet)

The environment at a CrossFit gym can easily be compared to that of the business world. After all, work can be pretty brutal sometimes, specifically in sales. You’re being constantly rejected, stressing about hitting your metrics, and wondering if your commission check will be big enough to pay the bills… always hoping you’ll have that :01 to spare at the end of the day.

Here are four lessons I learned from CrossFit that are equally applicable in business— improving company culture, maximizing employee output, and creating a workplace full of fiercely loyal employees.

1. Train and Coach your Employees Constantly

This is first for a reason. The best CrossFit athletes always have coaches critique their form on different lifts. These coaches have extensive experience and are EXPERTS in all CrossFit movements, and understand exactly where problems can arise. Our gym has a power lifting class every Tuesday night where an actual Olympic lifter shows us how to maximize our strength in each major lift. In the first class I attended, my deadlift max went from 245 lbs to 275 just from tweaking one or two things!

At the office, it’s too easy for employees to get in a rut or fall into bad habits without being noticed. They put their stamp on mediocre work, spend a little too much time researching prospects to avoid picking up the phone, or just forget the techniques they were taught at the beginning of their careers. Coaching not only fuels a culture of constant improvement, but it changes an employee’s mindset to always analyze what they could be doing better, which maximizes their productivity and performance.

At Lucid Software, we have amazing leadership. As in, the greatest sales team in the world type of leadership. Blake Harber, Peter Chun, Dan Cook and others spend a considerable amount of time with us as a sales team making sure we understand each part of the sales process. From opening call sequences to conducting discovery calls, every day they train us to some degree. And because of that, the culture of our entire team is to improve, grow, and get to the next level. We just don’t stop grinding.

2. Cheer them on to the last second & encourage them to push their limits

I finished the most grueling workout of my life with ONE second to spare, and can attribute my success to one of the top athletes yelling, “YOU’RE GOING TO FINISH, KEEP GOING!” He counted down my last few exercise sets and kept me informed on the time remaining, pushing me literally to the last second. This athlete, JJ Peterson, is one of the strongest athletes at our gym, and happens to be a top personal trainer in Utah. (JJ is also a trainer on A&E’s Fit to Fat to Fit TV series)

He helped me change my mindset during the hardest part of the workout to dig deeper than I thought was possible, something I couldn’t mentally do on my own at that moment. Because he is one of the best and strongest, I believed him and kept pushing.

The words I was hearing were “YOU CAN DO IT, JUST 8 MORE!” Eventually the rest of the team came over and cheered me on to finish the workout until I succeeded. They all high-fived me as my body collapsed to the ground in exhaustion.

Everybody can always get better and do more. It’s how we’re made. However, many of us just don’t know what our fullest potential is, and are not used to pushing ourselves enough to find it. Managers need to facilitate the right culture to give employees the desire to put in the extra work for extra success. If your employees push themselves, they will take ownership over increasing their capacity to accomplish more than they would have otherwise.

3. Help them see the small victories along the way

Athletes and employees face physical and mental plateaus when they can’t progress past a certain point. It can be extremely frustrating not hitting a new goal or feeling like things just aren’t “clicking” for you at a new job.

During my first few weeks in CrossFit, our coaches made us use PVC pipes to learn the form of the different movements: the deadlift, snatch, clean, push press, etc. I thought I would never snatch or clean over 100 pounds because they were the most awkward movements I had ever done, and I clearly was not performing them right. Over time, I made small, meaningful improvements, and the coaches made a point to acknowledge them. This helped me see the slow but positive progress in going from a PVC pipe to over 140 lbs And I’m not stopping there.

Most career work is much more mental than physical. After receiving ‘no’ after ‘no’ on the phone, or struggling to come up with that meaningful piece of content you need to publish by Friday, it’s important to take time to reflect on positive progress. Managers can help employees do this by giving regular, genuine compliments on their efforts and progress. An outside perspective can often see things that an individual can’t during a struggle, so pointing out specific areas of positive improvement will create positive feelings, boost creativity, and allow them to push through to the next level.

4. Make their work goals THEIR goals

The main motivation for me to set my own goals in CrossFit is seeing what others have achieved with their physique, strength, and conditioning levels. Simply by seeing what is possible in the top performers, I am instantly motivated to show up every day, and strive to do my personal best. However, since work progress isn’t usually tied to physical appearance, how can you apply the same principle with your employees?

Employees and people generally perform best when they come up with their own goals to work towards accomplishing. All of us have had that leader who wants to impose their will on us. They want us to be “the next them.” It doesn’t take long to find out this method doesn’t work. As a manager or leader, you should help guide and push your employees to hit quotas and company goals. You should also sit down with them and help them see their potential for progress within their own careers.

Simply by showing them what is possible by your performance as a manager, leader, or top performer, you can motivate them to want to attain your level of success.

In As a Man Thinketh, James Allen writes:

“A strong man cannot help a weaker unless the weaker is willing to be helped, and even then the weak man must become strong of himself; he must, by his own efforts, develop the strength which he admires in another. None but himself can alter his condition.”

A strong man cannot help a weaker unless the weaker is willing to be helped, and even then the weak man must become strong of himself. (Click to Tweet)

You have to activate your employees’ internal desire to be great and achieve their goals. Do this by caring about their progress, having meaningful and regular one-on-ones, and reminding them of their “why”.

Daniel Adamson, our coach and owner at CrossFit the Point does a great job of this by celebrating and high-fiving us when we break new records and make progress. He reminds us not to take shortcuts and cut our reps during each workout. He takes the time to know each athlete’s strength level and pushes us to do more than we think is possible. I’m truly grateful for people in my personal and professional life who do this.

Parting Thoughts

At the end of the day, my work at CrossFit is all about forward progress. My work in sales is also all about forward progress. How much weight can I squat? Clean? or Deadlift? How can I best engage my buyer? How can I create strategic relationships? How can I destroy my quota this month?

Most employees, specifically millennials, are as thirsty for coaching and training as a sponge is for water. They need and want you, their leader, to help them succeed.

When leaders at all levels follow these principles, you won’t just find your employees breaking records, but also people who will appreciate working with you and stick around for months and years to come.

You have the opportunity to change their lives. How will you do it?

Neal Ferrell
Neal Ferrell is on the Account Development team @LucidChart, and has multiple years of sales and management experience. He is passionate about becoming the best at whatever he does, and motivating others to be their best as well. In his spare time, he spends time with his beautiful wife, studies sales and positive psychology books, rips through waist-deep powder on his snowboard, and of course spends 4-5 days a week progressing in CrossFit. #crushingit