On Leadership

2013 January 11
by Alan Aragon

The following interview is with Petter Fagerberg, a nutrition major at the University of Gothenberg, Sweden. I’m honored that he chose me as the subject of his assignment in a course on leadership. For those who are en route, or are already in a position of leadership, this is for you. 


What is your biggest strength as a leader?

My biggest strength as a leader is a genuine interest in improving the lives of others. Without this as a driving force, I might as well not be a beacon of guidance or source of inspiration for anyone but myself. My secondary strength is the ability to communicate with honesty, even if it means admitting to being wrong (& appearing newbish) or creating conflict with others.

Before continuing, I want to add that my self-perception is probably a bit warped and not as accurate or objective as how others might describe me.  Others might find more faults & strengths that I’m either in denial, or unaware of.

What is your biggest weakness as a leader?

My biggest weakness is being too perfectionistic in my work. Striving for excellence or greatness has more practical value than striving for perfection, which can lead to work delays, and even chaos & frustration in the worst cases. I often feel that my work is never as good as it could be, so the process of attempting improvements can become perpetual and sometimes self-defeating. Realizing when my work is ‘good enough’ is definitely tough for me.

What is the biggest challenge with being a leader and leading other people?

The biggest challenge is dealing with people who seem to be unwilling to learn. Oftentimes it requires taking a step back and realizing that I’m the one who needs to step up my teaching game in order to reach the seemingly unteachable. This involves going back to the drawing board or buckling down and dusting off the textbooks. It’s easy to get snuggled up into a mode of operation that you mistakenly believe is the best way to do things, without realizing that certain components should be replaced or discarded.

What quality in your role as a leader are you most proud of?

How about three things: my fearlessness, honesty, and caring. I can be pretty hilarious at times, but this has gotten me in as much trouble as it has advanced my leadership role. Plus, I’ve never had to work at being hilarious.

What is ideal leadership for you? Any special leader that has inspired you?

Ideal leadership is living/being the example, and not being too far up on your own perch that people at the ‘lower’ rungs cannot relate to you on a personal level. Leadership is being able to strike a fine balance between open-mindedness and adherence to principles or skepticism. Leadership is showing love for yourself, others, and your craft. Leadership is genuinely enjoying what you do to a degree that emanates onto those around you, and inspires them.

As a leader, you may find that some folks who you inspire have more talent, drive, and ability than you do. So, be ready for the instances when you must set your ego down and learn from your students. This is a very underrated aspect of leadership. Some folks get ego-bruised when those they nurture end up surpassing them. On the contrary, this should actually be one of the main goals of leadership. 

As for the second part of the question, many people have inspired me, but my most recent inspiration has been Brad Schoenfeld, an exercise scientist who has all of the aforementioned qualities in abundance.  Note: anyone who missed my interview with Brad can read it here.

What is the biggest reward of being a leader and helping other people develop?

The biggest reward is knowing that I’m helping others approach their potential. It’s a completely intrinsic satisfaction. You can’t put a price on the feeling of knowing you’ve nurtured strength, courage, knowledge, and wisdom in others.

What is your own perception about your type of leadership “style”? Is this type of style something that you have proactively thought about and developed over time, or is it your natural way of leading others?

I have not been proactive in crafting my own leadership style. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a solid family-oriented upbringing with great parents. So, as far as style goes, I can’t say I have a particular one; I just try to be myself.

What (if you have one) is your bigger vision with your leadership in this industry?

My vision is for my work and my philosophies about fitness, science, critical thinking, and life-success to inspire others to embark on their own journeys toward reaching their potential. This vision is currently being fulfilled, and I aim to make sure it continues long after I leave this planet.



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29 Responses
  1. January 11, 2013

    ‘The biggest challenge is dealing with people who seem to be unwilling to learn. Oftentimes it requires taking a step back and realizing that I’m the one who needs to step up my teaching game in order to reach the seemingly unteachable. This involves going back to the drawing board or buckling down and dusting off the textbooks. It’s easy to get snuggled up into a mode of operation that you mistakenly believe is the best way to do things, without realizing that certain components should be replaced or discarded.’

    This. Many times in many ways.

  2. Richard Walls permalink
    January 11, 2013

    Good interview! Couldn’t agree more on the weakness you mentioned…sometimes we spend so much time finding the perfect way to do or say things that they either get done or said late, or never at all. Like in training, spending so much time researching the “best” method instead of just going in and exercising.

  3. darkseeker permalink
    January 11, 2013

    Love your quarterly, I mean semi-annual blog posts. Lots of quotables in there, thanks for the wisdom as always, Alan.

  4. Lori permalink
    January 11, 2013

    Hey Alan,

    It’s so good to see a different side of you. I’m used to you biting people’s heads off. Not that I don’t enjoy watching that 🙂

  5. Chris Seabourne permalink
    January 12, 2013

    Really enjoyed this piece Alan. Question for you. Did you decide early on that you wanted to become a leader, or did you just end up being a leader? Thanks for your time.

  6. January 13, 2013

    Chris — I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to become a leader in the explicit sense. I always knew I wanted to succeed at what I enjoy, and I think I just ended up getting wide exposure through my writing, and was sort of defaulted into a leadership role.

    All — Thanks for checking out this interview, glad you enjoyed it.

  7. Chris Seabourne permalink
    January 14, 2013

    Thanks Alan, keep up the good work!

  8. Devon permalink
    January 15, 2013

    Hey Alan, I just want to thank you for being an inspiration. So many people have a gimmick. Your gimmick is your honesty and destruction of bullshit. I really like how you don’t think you’re a god or above everyone like almost every other fitness guru it seems. Take care, love your work. D

  9. Christine permalink
    January 16, 2013

    Alan I really love your work, and am going to subscribe to AARR but before I do so, would you say that someone less than halfway through nutrition undergrad can comprehend it? Will it be too technical? Thanks.

  10. January 16, 2013

    Christine — AARR does get a tad heady at points, not gonna mislead you. However, if you can grasp what I write in my publicly available articles, you will grasp the majority of what I write in AARR. Thanks for your interest.

    Devon — Thanks man, it means a lot to hear that.

  11. January 21, 2013

    This is something I meant to ask you about Alan: how do you draw the line between not burying your readers in too much information, while still providing enough detail to be factually accurate?

    A lot of this probably depends on the topic, the scope of the article, and the audience, but are there any formulas or rules of thumb you use to find a nice balance between the details (e.g. study specifics) and the main premise of the article (e.g. what makes people lose weight)?


    – Armi

  12. Alan Aragon permalink*
    January 22, 2013

    Armi — When I go in-depth with any article, I tend to get out what I want to say in about 1500-2000 words, occasionally a bit longer. Much more than that for the broader audience would not hold their attention & is better to break up in parts. If it’s more of a Q/A topic with very limited data to go on, or one requiring a more succinct “these are the facts” answer, then I tend to get these done within 700-1000 words. Most of these figures are based on the content of AARR. If I’m just answering questions on a public forum, I purposely try to be as simple & brief as possible while still remaining factual.

  13. Steve permalink
    January 22, 2013

    Very cool interview. In regards to the last point, you are making a profound effect in shaping many people’s lives. Whether it be on this site, bb.com, NutMisc, or wherever it may be, you are helping to form the life-goals of many college-aged young adults who are either currently enrolled in Fitnesss/Nutrition/Science classes or of those unsure of which path to take in their lives. It is great to see you take the time to personally answer questions from those that look up to you and to give them guidance. In these ways you are a true leader. Keep up the good work!

  14. January 22, 2013

    Great post…retweeted to my followers

  15. January 23, 2013

    Thanks James & Steve!

  16. Colin permalink
    January 29, 2013

    Alan, as someone who has put a bit of study into leadership (and has had to mentor ‘junior’ leaders in my military career), the best leaders are never those who ‘decide’ to be a leader, they are those who have a desire to excel at their craft – something you clearly demonstrate by example.

    Always found your writing for Men’s Health some of the best content and finally found my way to your blog through fitocracy – keep up the good work.

  17. Alan Aragon permalink*
    February 1, 2013

    Colin — Thanks very much for your insight, it’s good to learn from those who have actually studied this stuff.

  18. John Archer permalink
    February 3, 2013

    Awesome work on the JISSN paper, Alan. IMO you and Brad wrote the best review on the subject ever. All other reviews I’ve read on nutrient timing ignore so many shortcomings of the current recommendations that people hold as gospel. Keep up the good work!

  19. February 3, 2013

    Thanks John, that article was a long time in the making, but once we built up momentum, the process was break-neck. I’m so glad you anjoyed it and found it helpful. Big props to Brad for the stellar collaborative skills & making the paper publish-able. My next blog post will be on the latter.

  20. February 7, 2013

    Thanks Alan,

    It’s funny, one of my rules of thumb is that whenever my writing starts to sound like a research paper, I know it needs to be simplified. I also get my mom (who has little interest in the details of health research) to read them, and if they make sense to her, I know most people will get them.

    Great reply, and another congrats on your publication with Brad.

    P.S. Just noticed your footer — “Master of Trolling Sciences” Love it, Alan Aragon, MTS 🙂

    – Armi

  21. Gizza permalink
    March 6, 2013

    Hi Alan. Very interesting interview about leadership. The rest of my comment is about the fructose debate. I have to thank you as I’ve personally interpreted the evidence on both sides and now realise the sugar scare is a massive exaggeration. I was beginning to question Lustig’s propaganda when I kept on seeing lean people who hardly exercise drinking soft drinks (it clearly filled their stomachs). I have myself lost weight at a time when I have been eating more ice cream (but overally quantity of good eaten i.e. energy/calories is slightly less and exercising marginally more).

    I think there is virtually no causation of any food type/diet or macronutrient in causing obesity (sugar, fat, vegetable oil, saturated fat, meat, veg diets, grains, salt, gluten dairy, absence of fibre or protein, etc.) I know TOO many people with all of these varied food habits with completely different figures even though they eat the same types of food. I personally feel real healthy eating a bit of everything (both “good” and “bad” foods). Far better than limiting yourself. Unfortunately there is too much money to be gained from vilifying some type of food.

    Back to this blog, you talk about helping other people develop and you HAVE helped develop me so thank you Mr Aragon. 🙂

  22. April 18, 2013

    As I have said many, many times there is no one better at disseminating sports nutrition science than Alan.

  23. August 6, 2013

    I’m pretty active in the “Leadership Space” is there is such a thing, and teach occasional seminars on the topic. I also have a room full of people this week for 6 days and 5 nights, most of whom want to learn, and are interested in what I have to share with them.

    That said, I agree 100% that the biggest challenge is people who are “unwilling to learn” as you put it. Sometimes I get through, sometimes I don’t.

    A great leader inspires people to follow, but some people, well, let’s just say they may not be ready be follow or even listen with an open mind – yet. I never give up on people, as hard as that can be.

    Great interview with lots of fantastic points.

  24. August 30, 2013

    Great post!

  25. December 5, 2013

    Interesting interview with a lot of good points. Your self perception in “your biggest strength” is not the type of thing you hear from people too much although it is probably true for most people. Thanks for the insights!

  26. January 7, 2014

    Thanks for this fantastic article. Leadership is definitely something that has been a challenge for me before. Fitness is something that I’ve had a lot of passion about, but I used to struggle a lot with passing on that knowledge, and leading others toward their fitness goals. And I realize that I still have room for improvement. It’s important to realize though that we are good enough to be leaders. We have what it takes, we just have to apply ourselves.

  27. March 29, 2014

    Hey, I like what you said Alan ” My biggest strength as a leader is a genuine interest in improving the lives of others” A great post.

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