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Fit to Lead: Danish Prime Minister’s Running Meetings Set the Bar for World Leaders

On a rainy Monday in April, eight people ran about three miles around a lake near Marienborg, the official residence of Denmark's prime minister. But this was no ordinary jogging group. 

Seven of the runners were leaders and influencers from a variety of industries, from television to the corporate world. The eighth runner—and the person who called the meeting—was Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen himself.

(L-R) Camilla C. Collet, Lawyer & Partner, Gorrissen Federspiel; Mikkel Beha Erichsen, TV host; Rasmus Ingerslev, Chairman, IHRSA and REPEAT; Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Prime Minister; Pia Aarestrup, Global Head of HR Wealth Management, Danske Bank; Nicolai Jørgensen, CEO, Riis Seier Project; Anja Bach Eriksson, Chairman, M.J. Eriksson; Maria Hjorth, Partner & CEO, Mercer Danmark

“I am very pleased to see our leader ‘running’ his country this way,” says IHRSA Board Chair Rasmus Ingerslev, who was among the runners that day. “To me he is a role model for leaders globally by choosing this way of meeting people; encouraging people to exercise in a world where diseases related to physical inactivity causes more death than anything else.” 

The run, which the Prime Minister often holds on Mondays, was followed by an informal breakfast meeting, with the participants still in their workout clothes. 

“Imagine sitting there all red faced and sweaty with the leader of the nation,” Ingerslev says. “As awkward as this may sound to some it felt incredibly natural, and I believe the discussion became more open and honest because of the format.”

IHRSA had the opportunity to ask Prime Minister Rasmussen more about his Monday running meetings. Here’s what he said:

How did you come up with the idea to hold running meetings? 

As Prime Minister your schedule is always full, but it is important that you do not become isolated. Therefore, when I became Prime Minister the second time, I decided to make meeting people from all parts of our society a permanent part of my calendar every Monday morning. Since time for exercise is scarce as well, I came up with the idea to combine the two.

What are the benefits to meeting this way versus sitting around a board room table? 

The talks are more informal and frank when you meet around an activity instead of sitting face to face in a formal meeting room in your suit. The running meetings give me valuable input I would not otherwise get. It is an opportunity for me to stay in touch with our country as a whole.

How do you choose who to invite on your run each Monday? 

The point is to talk to people from all parts of the society who may have valuable input. I choose a good mix of people from the business world, the cultural scene, organizations, and associations—people who have knowledge and opinions on different topics.

Can you share a favorite anecdote or outcome from a Monday run meeting?

The Monday run is a way for me to take care of myself while working. Therefore, it is great, when the run inspires others to stay fit. I have experienced several times that people who usually did not exercise started running after getting an invitation to my Monday run—and then kept on running after their run with me. Sometimes they text me their latest achievements in their running shoes—that is fun.

Would you recommend this kind of meeting to other world leaders? 

I would definitely recommend meeting with all sorts of people in an informal setting as a fixed part of your weekly schedule. One of the major systemic risks of being a government is that if you are not careful, you forget to take the temperature on how the reality really is, and it is essential to stay in touch with reality if you want to focus on the significant challenges and make the right decisions.

A Message and a Challenge from the IHRSA Board Chair

After participating in the Danish Prime Minister’s running meeting, IHRSA Board Chair Rasmus Ingerslev realized there’s an opportunity for heads of state from around the globe to lead by example by incorporating physical activity into their work. 

Here are some final thoughts from Ingerslev: 

“If more leaders embraced and actively endorsed an active lifestyle, I have no doubt that we would see a positive change in global exercise behavior.

“As leaders we need to be role models, but oftentimes health becomes something we talk about, write about, and put into agendas and even spreadsheets—but less often something we actually do. That's a problem in a world where sedentary lifestyles are highly related to the majority of the diseases that people die from. At the end of the day the best workout, the one that does wonders for your health, is the one that actually happens!

“Inspired by the Danish Prime Minister, and in my capacity as IHRSA Chair, I would like to challenge leaders globally to share their exercise regimen or even better; actively invite others to exercise with them! We are not talking doing an Iron Man. Just getting in a minimum number of steps works.

“And in case you’re a leader and not active yet, here’s the good news; it’s very likely that physical activity will make you a better leader. Physical activity is the best possible way to improve your cognitive function and—since the larger part of a leader’s workday requires problem solving, decision making, and laser focus—leaders who exercise definitely have an advantage on those who do not.

“It would be fantastic if we, the fitness industry, could kick-start this challenge by sharing our stories. And it would make me incredibly happy to see as many leaders from our industry and beyond share their stories using the hashtag #FitToLead on social media.

“So… are you fit to lead?”