The Body of Leadership

Woman doing push-up.


Pexels | Photo by Karl Solano.

Recently, I binge-watched a new series on Netflix called Physical 100. It’s a Squid Game-esque competitive reality show of 100 top athletes in Korea. The participants are former Olympians, MMA fighters, dancers, rescuers, personal trainers, bodybuilders, and special forces members. There is no host, only an all-seeing eye-thingy with a compelling voice giving instructions. 

These top athletes are men and women combined. The show answers this question: is strength about the body, physicality, endurance, agility, and strong willpower, or does strategy and risk take precedence, regardless of gender? Interpersonal interactions are prompted by the athletes who operate from a strong awareness of self and the cultural influence in which they were born or selected. The few non-Korean athletes give the competition an exciting nuance.

The athletes have no idea what they are jumping into. All they know as they enter the arena is that they are the best at what they do. They are physically fit, focused, hard-working, and synced in with their athletic abilities and personal leadership philosophies. Or are they?

There are plaster sculptures of headless upper bodies and each person has to find the one that represents them somewhere in the room while viewing the bodies they will soon compete against. As they pass each torso and watch each new athlete enter the room, the viewer sees awe and intimidation and watches as determination to do their best–no matter what–sets in as their intention.  

There are multiple events, each more tortuous and exciting than the last. When I say exciting, I mean the edge-of-the-seat kind that hooks you immediately. Who can suspend themselves from their arms the longest? Who can move boulders that weigh hundreds of pounds? Who can lead strangers to victory through motivation, communication, trust, and be in sync with the rest of the team? As each game is completed, you watch these athletes compete in scary, relentless, painful, and seemingly impossible events. It begins as individual efforts to decrease the number of contestants. Are they the best of the best, or is it simply luck? I immediately got hooked on the show, the athleticism, and the individual athletes as I watched each person step up, use all they’ve learned about themselves, their respective sports or jobs where their physical strengths and agility means life or death, and what–to them–it means to be a leader in their field as they fight long brutal battles of becoming the best, most optimal body of pure athleticism, strength, and prowess. The last one standing at the top.

So where does the leadership come in?

Becoming a top athlete takes a strong sense of self and a personal leadership philosophy. You must be willing to work hard, sacrifice, listen to your coaches and instincts, have strong communication skills, pay attention to the competition, be strategic, take risks, win, lose, and do it all over again.

After a few events, the athletes move from individual to team events. People who don’t know one another personally or well must trust others to work as hard as they do individually and collectively. Remember, there can only be one at the top of this competition. They must trust the leader who chose them to meet each objective and win a place in the next round. From this network, alliances were formed, and trust built. They quickly learn to communicate, take direction, lead, and follow each other. When one person grew weak, they collectively rallied each other. They adapted, evolved, appreciated each other, and cheered each other on. Heck, they cheered on their competition because they knew how hard it was to be in that room. 

Other dynamics in the competition were intimate relationships between couples, people who worked with or previously competed against each other, and coaches and athletes competing against each other. Also in the room was the cultural aspect of respect, social hierarchy, and responsibility to the collective. Honestly, it was a learning experience.

There were moments where people had to be honest about their ability, choose between the possibility of making it to the end or not, and sacrifice themselves because they knew another athlete had a better chance of winning. Each person had to make hard decisions, and each was a leader in their own right.      

The obstacles were no one. The events were well thought out and a bit sadistically orchestrated, and yet each athlete was led by their sense of self and a personal leadership philosophy to go as far as they could. From my view, sitting on my couch, every athlete left it all on the arena floor, including blood, sweat, lost breath, tears, and altered egos.

Leadership is complex. It takes a strong and strategic mind, a willing heart, integrity, and willingness–to adapt, change, fail, succeed, listen, learn, be inclusive, and decisive. There are many definitions and words to describe what it means to be a leader, but it begins with understanding who you are and carving out a personal leadership philosophy to live by.

So, what is your leadership philosophy? Do you have one?

DEBORAH BLAKE DEMPSEY, MS is the CEO & Founder of Human Being Human, LLC. Deborah is a Life Strategist & Transformational Coach, Writer, and Speaker. She is the author of The Hoppernots, an uplifting, can-do story about amphibians and other forest dwellers coming together to defeat a common enemy and is told within a diverse ecosystem teeming with life and purpose. Her mission is to engage healthcare and corporate leaders at all levels to fulfill their greatness in their professional and personal lives by helping them understand their motivational drivers, define their purpose, find their voice, and develop their potential. She brings to her coaching more than 25 years of experience as a healthcare leader, having held strategic, financial, and operational leadership roles in physician practices, academic hospitals, and for-profit healthcare settings. Deborah is particularly interested in working with leaders struggling with self-confidence, professional identity, and facing burnout.

She holds a BA in Social Psychology and an MS in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University.