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On running and leadership

Learning on the run

This morning I went for a run. It was chilly enough that my breathe was visible and the air against my skin was palpable. Rain pelted down in a cool mist accompanied by occasional giant drops from leaves overhead, making sure that the entire event was just miserable enough to make me question the choice to be out there. But today was a big deal and one I didn’t want to miss. This morning, before most people were awake, I passed my mileage for the entire year last year. Two points make this considerable. First and most obvious we are not completed with the year. Second and less obvious to all but those closest to me, I am not a runner. I have competed in bodybuilding competitions completed multiple Tough Mudders and have owned a gym for years, but running…never. Point in fact, I only started running because I had to. 22 months ago, after a dismal meeting with my doctor, I reached out to one of my closest friends and asked him to make me run not a runner, just make me run. After two months of excuses, I showed up at the gym and we started running. Four months after that I found myself out on the trails just…running. And it was glorious, or anything but. I am slow, it hurts like hell and there have been times that I have stumbled past my friends after a run which they finished long before me, barely reaching my car, only to leave without saying a word. But I persisted, thanks in large part to a closely-knit group of people that keep me pushing on and a more than loving, understanding wife at home. So today, when I finally made my way back to my house I sat on my porch with a cup of coffee, listened to the birds slowly wake up to greet the day and reflected on the last 18 months.

I would like to share 8 lessons I’ve learned, apropos to life as much as business.

  1. It’s about progression not perfection-It is important to remember that you will get better if you simply keep taking that next step. Every change we’re looking to make whether employee engagement to improve retention or running simply requires continuing to put one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t matter how fast you go it only matters that we chase progress. In all things consistency is the best tool any of us have.

2.There is no such thing as the easy way-In the beginning I did a lot of research on anything that would give me an edge, make running easier or make me faster. Was it shoes, a different meal plan or pre-run drink, running on a particular part of my foot? At the end of the day, what I learned is that hard work put in every day is the easy way. In my line of business, I work with all types of leaders. Those which are most successful understand that they must invest in their people every day. They come in to work, ready to face the day and put in the hard work of developing their people. These small investments yield a group of employees ready and willing to get in the trenches by their side, shoulder to shoulder.

3.It pays to take a moment to take in the scenery-When I first started running my focus was just on getting by without throwing up. Head down completely laser focused on making it to that next mile. Then something clicked. I was half way into a six-mile run in the woods. I reached a small clearing and raised my head. Off to my left there was a beautiful pond, fish jumping out leaving a smooth circular ripple in the water and to my right through the trees I could see the sun beginning to set leaving the sky and trees stained in a deep orange red hue. That moment refreshed me both mentally and physically and I finished that run with all the gusto of a kid playing tag. Work can get to be like chasing the miles, endlessly watching the time click by ever consumed by the next meeting or impending project deadlines. Taking what I learned from that conversion moment in the woods, I’ve started taking time out to simply enjoy work. Lifting my eyes up from the computer screen to look around. I’ve recognized that, as leaders, we impact people in deep and meaningful ways. Work is more than numbers on a spreadsheet, it’s about those moments. Reflecting on this can be refreshing and give you that energy you had when you first joined your company. However you define it, find a way to get to that place once in a while.

4.Breathing is important-When you run, your body reacts to the increasing carbon dioxide and decreasing oxygen concentrations by forcing you to breathe heavily. Not only does increased breathing allow you to balance the scales, it also serves to move waste products out of your body more efficiently. However, when you fight breathing the stress response has the opposite effect. As with running, so with business. When we go full force at a project or challenge we can forget to breathe. When that happens we’ll either hit a brick wall or be forced to stop lurching along the way. Better to remember that, sometimes, the fastest way to get there is to slow down…and breathe.

5.Everything is temporary-I’ve heard it said that we would do well to understand that all things are temporal. This is very true in running. You can go from the best run of your life directly to feeling like you don’t want to take another step; and sometimes that’s in the same run. In business, whether you had a killer month or completely bombed out, every day or at the very least every month is a new start. To me, it is more important to remember this coming off a difficult conversation or a significant loss. Those difficult times, as grim as they are, are only temporary. “This too shall pass” and those events will eventually add color and meaning to the wins that you will experience. A great quote I’ve kept with me over the last several months goes something like this: “The good times are there as the spice of life. They are not meant to be the entire meal. They add a complexity and depth to the meal when sprinkled in the right amounts.”

6.Be comfortable with being uncomfortable- No run that is worth is comes without effort, sometimes extreme effort. The payoff could be a personal best, seeing the sunrise at the top of a mountain or it could be as simple as a cup of coffee on your porch. But even that cup of coffee is made better by the discomfort faced in getting to that moment. No growth, no achievement comes without first being uncomfortable. In business; sweeping and meaningful change often comes on the cusp of momentous challenge. Those who stay the course regardless of the monstrosities and insurmountable will be the victors in the end and will see their goal realized.

7.Set small goals-they add up over time-When I first set out to run it was on a treadmill. My only goal, as I said before, was to make it through without throwing up. Eventually that goal moved to making it two miles, then three, then four, then a run series. Next up for me will be a marathon followed by a fifty miler. It’s those small goals that over time built up. Looking back, the mileage I earned today all started with that first goal, “Don’t puke”. It’s the same at work. I focus a large majority of efforts on employee retention. Instead of trying to change the course of my site in one fail swoop we focus on small changes. Strategically focusing efforts on small meaningful change that will yield significant results at the end. This decision has made all the difference in the world. Our numbers are improving and from the entry level to the veterans the impact is tangible and quantifiable. Celebrate the victories no matter how small. In your personal life, you’re going to have huge wins, enjoy those moments and take them in but don’t get comfortable let them propel you forward and build upon them.

8.Surround yourself with people better than you but more importantly with people that care-The guys I run with are fast. Like really fast. Watching them run, which from my vantage point I can do, it’s like watching a gazelle run until it disappears over the horizon. They always beat me, sometimes by five minutes mostly by 15 minutes. But at the end of the run I can always depend on the fact that they’re there cheering me across the finish line. Side note, I have found that the adage of the tortoise and the hare is not real life. This does a couple of things for me. One, it makes me run faster and prods me on because I know there will be someone waiting for me to get there. Second, regardless of my time, it makes me happy to know that someone is there. Someone who faced the same difficulties I did and they are proud of the effort put in and can celebrate the accomplishment with me. The same holds true in business. When we face obstacles and challenges together it creates a cohesive team. We can hold each other up and hold each other accountable. Can we accomplish tasks without a team, yes? But that victory is never as sweet or meaningful as when we accomplish it together. Finally, there is truth in the saying that the people you surround yourself at work and in life will help build you up and push you to the next level or you will fall to their level.

All great journeys begin with that first small step. Taking time out to reflect on those fist small steps can be the catalyst to significant positive change. If you’re interested in learning more about running, I’d suggest starting with Strength Running or just getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

Originally published at www.thehumblegents.com

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