Our 2013 IT Salary Survey shows most employers don't care that much about your fitness. But you should, if you want to do your job better.

Jonathan Feldman, CIO, City of Asheville, NC

April 12, 2013

4 Min Read

Only one out of 10 tech executives gets a health club or gym membership as a job perk, according to the latest InformationWeek IT Salary Survey, so odds are that your employer doesn't care all that much about your fitness. But it should. And you should. A healthy level of athletics will help you do your job better.

As an IT exec or manager, every day you're making tough calls. You're expected to show good judgment. You're expected to understand complex systems as well as or better than your staff and vendors, and judge whether they're performing. You need the mental toughness to withstand short-term criticism, to stay on course to achieve long-term gains. You need to step into emergency meetings with the CEO or other execs and explain what you need in the five minutes you're granted. In short, you need some serious brain power.

Turns out, if you want to generate more brain power, exercise helps. A lot. Most people intuitively understand this link, but there's science behind it as well. Beyond the science, regular exercise and competition teach us to keep calm and focused under pressure.

It doesn't matter whether you have that gym membership or pursue fitness on your own. Each method has its merits -- group accountability versus personal accountability. Either way, we learn lessons about business accountability.

[ If you don't change, you'll die. See IT Apocalypse Demands Courage. ]

America is a nation of untrained sprinters who turn into quitters on longer hauls. (Bear with me here.) We're a nation of day traders rather than long-term investors. Our companies plan for the next quarter more than for the next year or decade. Those with the conditioning and patience to go the distance are a rare and precious commodity.

We often hear the phrase "It's not a sprint, it's a marathon," but who really understands it? Well, those (like me) who have actually run a marathon.

Every race that I run teaches me something. During a recent one, I was having a terrible day. It was unseasonably hot and humid. I hadn't brought enough water. My stomach was giving me problems. While I had prepared for this situation (it's not uncommon to need ginger or another stomach remedy during a long race), my just-in-case supplies had fallen out of my fanny pack. I was ready to quit.

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But quitting wasn't an option, simply because at 15 miles into a "straight-through" 30-mile race, a runner has two options: Run back 15 miles or run forward 15 miles. The quitter culture would dictate "just don't do 30-mile straight-through runs" in the first place, but the lesson I took away, given the profound sense of accomplishment I felt when I finished, is that most worthwhile achievements have their bad moments, and if you don't see things through, you don't get the reward.

This is as true in IT as in running. As tech executives and managers, we're up against so many challenges – inadequate budgets, detached boards of directors, incompetent vendors, project saboteurs -- that it's tempting to shrink away. But quitting isn't an option.

Lessons are forever, but brain benefits aren't.

This is an important point for middle-aged and mid-career executives and managers to understand. It's tempting to think: "Hey, I've done plenty of exercise in my life. It's OK to slack off temporarily, because I'm really busy."

Sadly, while investment in exercise does have long-term muscular and cardiovascular health effects, brain benefits come only if you continue exercising regularly.

Want to be the sharpest exec or manager in the room? You don't have to run marathons, but invest continually in your fitness, even if your company doesn't.

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About the Author(s)

Jonathan Feldman

CIO, City of Asheville, NC

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human resources management. Asheville is a rapidly growing and popular city; it has been named a Fodor top travel destination, and is the site of many new breweries, including New Belgium's east coast expansion. During Jonathan's leadership, the City has been recognized nationally and internationally (including the International Economic Development Council New Media, Government Innovation Grant, and the GMIS Best Practices awards) for improving services to citizens and reducing expenses through new practices and technology.  He is active in the IT, startup and open data communities, was named a "Top 100 CIO to follow" by the Huffington Post, and is a co-author of Code For America's book, Beyond Transparency. Learn more about Jonathan at Feldman.org.

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