The great thing about running a marathon is that you just have to finish the 26.2 miles and you are a marathoner. I am a marathoner, (notice I did not share my Personal Record time, remember, you just have to finish) and both the running of the marathon and the training for the marathon has been a great learning experience for me. After completing a few of them I see that there are correlations between running a marathon and being a leader. Here are a few:
- You have to practice. Running a marathon is a major commitment. Runners prepare by running hundreds of miles over weeks and months just to build up the mental and physical strength to complete a marathon. A common training plan has runners building up to a 20-mile training run about 3 weeks prior to the actual race. To be a marathoner means one has to practice running, and continually and honestly evaluate weaknesses and strengths. Leadership is no different. How do you increase your strength, stamina, and effectiveness as a leader? You practice. This is a daily training run of self-mastery, of physical and emotional awareness, and of deepening your communication and listening skills. Learning to have powerful conversations that inspire and motivate others takes practice.
- You have to put one foot in front of the other. According the Internet, running a marathon takes anywhere from 33,000 to 56,000 steps or so, give or take a few thousand. Whatever number you use, that’s a lot of steps. While I am running, the only step that counts is the step that I am currently taking. I can’t focus on the finish line, but only on the rhythm of my stride, my breath. In leadership there are times for looking ahead and strategizing, but more often there is the day in front of you, the countless conversations to go before you reach the finish. As a leader you have to have the next conversation. Many times I see leaders stuck in anxiety about the future and various ‘what ifs’ (the whole marathon) instead of just focusing on the next conversation (the next step). Take it one conversation at a time, specifically the one you really need to have.
- Keep it in the box. This one will help you out with #2. There is a runner’s trick that an old pro taught me – keeping my run in the box. When you are actually in the marathon your mind can play tricks on you when you face the reality of miles to go before the finish. Just thinking about all 26.2 miles can be overwhelming. This is where the concept of keeping it in the box comes into play. Instead of focusing on the distance to go, just pick the next landmark to run to. See that telephone pole in the distance? All you have to do is make it to that pole. Then, once you are there, pick out another spot ahead and run just to it. This can be really helpful later in the race when you are hurting, walking, (Or limping), and will keep your mind occupied with the step that counts. As a leader when the goal or completion of the job seems impossibly far away, break your world into manageable pieces. Focusing in the next task, the next piece of the puzzle, being fully present at the meeting and not thinking about the next one – keeps it in the box.
- Sometimes you have a bad day: I have had some great marathons and long distance runs. I felt strong, I felt alive, and felt as if I could run forever. I have also had marathons and long runs that were a struggle the whole way. It was as if each step was a battle and felt like I was running up hill wearing shoes made of cement. Funny thing is that I didn’t know how it was going to go until I started to run. This is like leadership. You will have great days, days where conversations are clicking and you and your team are in Flow and work is like play. Then there are the days where it seems as if as a leader you are public enemy #1 and your conversations and interactions aren’t getting anywhere. Take a break, meditate, walk, (Go for a run?) tomorrow is a new day.
So it is time to run a marathon, it is time to be a leader. So go lead, as for me, I am going to find my shoes and hit the road.