December 13, 2018

3 Things Endurance Sports Can Teach You About Leadership

A Guest Post by Joel Runyon

I used to think endurance racing was torture. Go run a marathon? Yea right. An Ironman? Ha. 100 mile race? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Then I actually tried it. And I realized: endurance racing, while it’s one of the hardest things you can do, is also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It has a ton of life lesson that happen as a result and as more and more CEOs and organizational leaders pick up the sport, I can’t help but reflect on how much endurance sports can teach you about leadership.

#1 How To Pick Hard Goals

It’s hard to pick easy goals when you set out to do endurance sports. Almost everything you do is something you’ve never done before – something beyond your limits. But once you start to do them, you realize that your limits are static – in fact, they actually stretch. So you get used to picking hard goals, things you’ve never done before and barely imagined that you could accomplish.

As a leader, you won’t get very far by setting easy goals. Easy goals tend to make you lazy, apathetic out of work as soon as you run across someone who’s a little hungrier than you are. The big goals, the impossible goals, the ones that you’re almost scared to say out loud: those are the ones worth setting. Those goals are the ones that inspire people to get behind you and want to join you. The hard goals are the ones worth doing.

#2 The Value of Delayed Gratification

It’s hard to get up every saturday and go for a six hour bike ride. It’s hard to decide to put 6 months of hard work in for 1 day. It’s hard to eat the same diet for long periods of time. Sometimes you just want a beer, ya know?

Endurance racing teaches you’re training for something much bigger than what’s going to make you happy today. You’re planning on completing a big goal and you know you’re going to need some discipline to get there.

As a leader it’s easy to do whatever seems good for the present moment, but the true test is when you  can make the good long-term decisions and build for the future. Sometimes the employee needs to let go. Sometimes you need to do an reorganization. As a leader, you don’t have any easy decisions to make, but endurance training can help you make the hardest ones when you have a clear vision of what you’re building.

#3 The Fun Part of Pain

Any endurance athlete will tell you they hate the pain that comes with the sport, but they love it. The agony of traversing 70.3 or 140.6 miles is turned into elation as you cross that finish line. You did it. And it was totally worth it. So you do it over and over and over again.

The pain is part of the fun.

Being a leader is hard. you have to set vision, take responsibility, stay late and do the work that no one else wants to do. But it’s so worth it. Getting a team to coalesce around an idea, pushing forward in the face of adversity and making it happen is painful, tough and sometimes you want to quit. But, when you finish, and it’s done and you see what your team has accomplished, you can’t wait to go and sign up for it all over again.

Want to get started in endurance sports? Run your first triathlon in 3 months with Impossible TRI (affiliate link)

Joel Runyon writes about pushing your limits through endurance activities and doing impossible things at the Blog of Impossible Things and Impossible HQ. He just released Impossible TRI to help you run your first triathlon in 3 months. Follow Joel on twitter.