July 11, 2020 / VOLUME NO. 113
Total War Demands Total Fitness
One of the most productive hours I’ve spent recently was listening to this interview of William Demchak, the chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group.

Fortified with an abundance of capital, thanks to PNC’s sale of its 22% stake in BlackRock for $14.4 billion two months ago, Demchak has been especially frank about the severity of the coronavirus crisis and its looming consequences for banks.

The entire interview is outstanding. But it’s his response to the last question that I found most valuable.

“How do you find time to do the amount of training and to stay in the physical shape that you do, and how does that impact your ability to lead PNC?” asked Walker & Dunlop Chairman and CEO Willy Walker.

“People who say they can’t find time is just garbage,” Demchak answered. “I don’t play golf, and I don’t watch a lot of meaningless TV. So I got all the time I want. It’s as simple as that.”

Demchak is an exercise fanatic. If you Google his name, you’ll see images of him competing in triathlons and road races.

“Exercise gives you time to think,” he said. “You can get lost in your thoughts, and think through and focus on problems you’re trying to solve.”

Physical fitness is a common theme in the lives of effective leaders, especially those who lead through crisis.

England’s top battlefield commander in World War II, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, mentioned it repeatedly in his memoirs.

“I set out to produce troops who were imbued with that offensive eagerness and infectious optimism which comes from physical well-being,” Montgomery wrote about preparing his troops for D-Day. “You cannot win battles unless you are feeling well and full of energy.”

To be clear, exercise isn’t a necessary prerequisite of leadership. Plenty of exceptional leaders have been exceptionally unfit.

Winston Churchill once asked Montgomery what he would like to drink at dinner.

“Water,” Montgomery answered.

“This astonished [Churchill],” Montgomery wrote. “I added that I neither drank nor smoked and was 100 per cent fit; [Churchill] replied in a flash, that he both drank and smoked and was 200 per cent fit.”

The darkest days of the coronavirus crisis lay ahead. Leading your people through this will be exhausting. And one way to combat fatigue is through exercise.

You needn’t train for the Ironman triathlon, like Demchak. But you should strive to be prepared, both mentally and physically, for what’s to come — even if that means just taking a walk every morning.

“It’s part of life,” Demchak said. “You get up, maybe you do something. Maybe you do something at the end of the day.”

Take it from Field Marshal Montgomery, someone who knows a thing or two about dark days: “Total war demands total fitness.”

John J. Maxfield / editor in chief of Bank Director
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