You’re on the Wrong Treadmill

Some of the definitions for “treadmill” on is:  “an exercise machine…. (or) any monotonous, wearisome routine...”

Do you have time each day, or an entire daily routine, that feels like you’re on a treadmill?

… Click on the image below and watch the short video from The Secret Life of Pets 2.  Is this how you feel?

Too many leaders feel stuck in “reactive mode” and unable to find time to fully develop their organization.  That’s an example of what could be considered a negative treadmill.

In contrast, a positive treadmill makes you more effective, efficient, and a catalyst for growth.

For instance, I recently heard a speaker talk about going to CrossFit.  If you’re not familiar with CrossFit, their website describes it this way:

“CrossFit is a lifestyle characterized by safe, effective exercise and sound nutrition. CrossFit can be used to accomplish any goal, from improved health to weight loss to better performance. The program works for everyone—people who are just starting out and people who have trained for years.”

CrossFit is a combination of workouts, lifestyle, and community.  Although the program builds muscle and endurance, the focus is not to have bulging muscles.  CrossFit does not use treadmill machines, but the discipline of their program could be considered a routine similar to a treadmill. 

Is the CrossFit program a positive or negative type of treadmill?


This is because it develops a healthy lifestyle within a community of people seeking similar results. 

The speaker explained because he does CrossFit, he has the muscles and the skills to properly lift someone to safety who has become incapacitated.  That’s not the focus of why he is doing CrossFit, but it is an added benefit.

So often we want to avoid treadmills in business, however positive treadmills enable us to go beyond average to great.  Positive treadmills are challenging, yet enjoyable, build relationships, and enable us to do meaningful work.

How many of your treadmills today are positive?

Let me give you one more athletic example before we close with a next step.  This is inspired by an article on titled, The Reason the Patriots Always Come Back.

To be candid, it’s been many years since I’ve spent more than one hour a year watching professional football.  However, I have tremendous respect for the New England Patriots because Tom Brady seems to have good character and the team has been able to achieve some of the greatest comebacks in football history.  This team has won an astounding six NFL Super Bowls.

One of the reasons for the Patriots’ success is the “treadmills” they use to develop each player’s capacity to have more energy than their competitors in the fourth quarter of each game.  Superior conditioning gives them a significant competitive edge and ability to rebound even against what are traditionally impossible odds against them.

Conditioning is a treadmill.

Strategically implemented, conditioning is a positive treadmill.  Tactically implemented, conditioning may help in some ways, but its overall impact is limited.

The Patriots are strategic and relentless with conditioning.  As a result, they have won an AFC championship games by erasing a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and have overcome a 19-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl.  These are just two examples of the power of the Patriots’ strategic, positive treadmill.

What do I mean by “strategic treadmill?”

A strategic treadmill concentrates an individual through focused activities to achieve a specific outcome.

For the New England Patriots, it means their players do a lot of running.  The important thing to comprehend is not the amount of running they do, but how they run.  The team runs hills even during the NFL playoffs.  Most importantly, they condition their players for specific in-game scenarios.

Although every NFL team focuses on exploding from a position and being able to run short distances, no team does it with more consistency, rigor and intelligence than the Patriots.  They run hills, but the Patriots also develop the ability to run for a few seconds, and then do it again, and again, and again. 

The players learn that their superior conditioning shows up in every phase of every play throughout the game.  The conditioning is torture, but it builds the mental strength as well as physical power that enables them to outperform the competition when the going gets rough.

The Patriots take a simple thing and do it better than anyone else.


Leadership treadmills

Highly effective leaders and organizations develop a habit of taking something simple and doing it better than anyone else. 

Great leaders don’t avoid the treadmills.  Instead, they study and take control of their treadmills.  The negative aspects are stripped away, and the activities that create superior outcomes are expanded.

Steve Jobs did this with the Macintosh, iTunes, iPad, and iPhone.

Jeff Bezos led his Amazon team do this with online retailing.

Florence Nightingale did this with sanitation standards for healthcare.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did this with racism.

And the list goes on…

Taking something simple and doing it better requires vision of the weakness that is holding you back, and then discerning the best way to engineer a solution that overpowers the weakness with new habits. 

Short-term pain may still be part of your solution, but the significantly larger long-term gains make the agony worth the prize.

One last point

Treadmills serve a purpose.  They strengthen a limited part of your body or team.  However, treadmills are not a total solution.  The New England Patriots can run circles around other teams, but if they will lose every time if that’s all they do.  Professional football players also must lift weights for strength, workout as a team to bond effectively, study plays, study the competition, and mentally prepare themselves for every aspect of the game.

Consider leaving the “whiner” family, complaining about your negative treadmills but not doing anything about it.

Get away to reflect on your situation.  Remove interruptions and distractions to think clearly as an individual or a team.

Focus on how to better apply treadmill-like activities to take something simple and do it better than anyone else.

Consider having a meeting facilitator or coach join you in this work.  A different perspective can yield millions in outcomes.

Contact us if you have any questions.


David Graham Russell

Leadership Activist, Author & Consultant

P.S. If you like the treadmill wheel at the top, visit this site.