To close business deals, Microsoft EVP of business development Peggy Johnson literally goes the extra mile. In a new Wall Street Journal profile on how marathon running has helped Johnson’s career, we learn that Johnson uses her running habit as a business strategy.
“When I run with customers, the goal is to go just fast enough so they can’t talk much and I can dominate the conversation,” Johnson told the Journal about how she sets the pace to be at her comfort. By bringing clients onto her turf, she maintains the upper hand.
Johnson is not the only person who brings fitness into the workplace. There are stories of employees and managers who have asked job applicants to do sit-ups, jogs, and even go to a sauna to test their character. John Osbon said that when he worked on Wall Street, he would play basketball with job candidates and purposefully foul them to see how they would react under pressure. There, the goal was to throw a job seeker out of their element in the hopes that they would reveal their true character. But what if you do not play basketball? If you are applying to be a fitness instructor, your ability to think and sweat makes sense, but it can be harder to understand why you need to physically exhaust yourself if you are jockeying for a desk job.
Should work and exercise be kept separate? It depends on how you use it to make decisions and how much you believe your personal fitness identity should be a part of your professional one.
Should sweat be a part of business?
Moving around at work is known to boost our creativity and confer health benefits. Many managers enjoy walk-and-talks to get employees out of the restrictions of the office and into the looser habitats of the wild. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was famously a fan of walking meetings to have serious conversations. As Oracle’s David Haimes put it, the walk can make a talk between a manager and a team member seem more equal: “The fact that we are walking side-by-side means the conversation is more peer-to-peer than when I am in my office and they are across a desk from me, which reinforces the organizational hierarchy.” This kind of exercise can help build interpersonal relationships with coworkers and colleagues you may not otherwise get to know.
But taking this negotiation tactic to a higher level of aerobic activity comes with the risk of alienating prospective clients and employees. Physical sports can bring out ugly rivalries, sore losers, and at worst, a human resources complaint. “If you have a boss who is on a power trip, insecure and full of ego, he/she is not going to take well to being shown up by a subordinate,” work communication expert Donna Flag advised. “If, on the other hand, you’ve got an open, secure individual who won’t take it personally, then it could be very positive for both parties. Keep in mind that the game he or she is playing may not actually be tennis.”
If fitness is one team-building option among many, go ahead and ask your team member to go on a run with you. But make it a choice, not a surprise demand. And be careful about where the ask is coming from. If you are a manager asking a team member if they are interested in doing a lunch spin class, recognize the power dynamics within this request. They may feel pressure to say yes even if they secretly hate sweating.
And unless physical activity is required for a job candidate’s success, it is best to keep work and exercise separate in hiring. If you make fitness a mandatory part of your hiring process, you are signaling that you already have a certain kind of candidate in mind and will be excluding less able-bodied candidates. Some people shine in the boardroom and flame out in the weight room. Whether or not you get the desk job should not come down to how many weights can you lift or how long you can jog.