Staying leadership sharp takes dedication, tenacity, endurance and desire. These are the same traits that endurance athletes use to hone their athletic and mental skills every day.
That’s way endurance athletes can teach you valuable lessons on how to lead. Whether you are a community leader, entrepreneur, freelancers, or mid-level manger, endurance athletes demonstrate that by following a few simple mantras, anyone, at any skill level, can successfully finish the race.
By Enduring, We Conquer
Endurance athletes are unique. So unique that they have inadvertently unlocked the secrets to being an effective leader. The endurance athlete leads everyday, no matter rain or shine, by practicing and competing. They get the job done by training hard and finishing the race.
Endurance leaders take the endurance athletes example and expand it to all sorts of leadership situations. Whether you lead a single person web startup, are a freelancer, an entrepreneur, the president of your local neighborhood association or manager of a small team, endurance leadership can help you sustainability create value.
Endurance athletes experience a tremendous amount while competing. They can get cramps, fall down, get sunburned, dehydrated, hit the wall or have mechanical and even mental breakdowns. All of these situations have analogies to what a leader goes through everyday. Now, you can benefit from their blood, sweat, tears and broken toe nails.
Mantra #1: You Are The Company You Keep
Endurance athletes share a common bond. They know what it’s like to be injured or not feel like training. They get the hardships, the doubts and the drive to finish. It can also be a lonely experience and that’s why a lot of people join teams. Team In Training is just such a team.
Team In Training raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It’s a wonderful program that takes beginners and seasoned athletes on an exploration into endurance athletics while raising money for a wonderful cause (over $1 billion raised so far).
The great thing about TNT is the people. Some of these people are cancer survivors who are called Honorees — whose ordeals battling and conquering cancer are an inspiration.
There is nothing more motivating than seeing an honoree show up to practice, sometimes in the middle of chemotherapy, to tell you directly that every mile you run, every yard you swim and every kilometer you bike, keeps them motivated to get better. After hearing survival story after survival story, your own pain just seems so miniscule.
Endurance athletes know that people are important. So important that the company they keep not only outwardly represents them but also influences their decisions and attitudes. Surround yourself with great people and your are bound to become great.
Endurance leaders understand the power of people as well because it’s the people that believe in the vision, execute the plans and follow-up to ensure tasks are getting done.
Takeaway: Surround yourself with top quality, motivated and enthusiastic people.
Mantra #2: Embrace New Things
Endurance athletes use creativity to mix up their training routine and solve nagging problems. Cliff Bar is a great example of a creative solution to a nagging problem — fuel for your endurance event in a compact, tasty and easy to digest form.
It’s really hard to eat and exercise. Before Cliff bar, you would have to eat these nasty meal replacement bars that got it all wrong. Way too much fat, hard to digest (meal replacement bars usually fill you up) and tasted awful — cardboard awful. Thankfully, Cliff Bar saved the day and you can now fuel yourself and not gag while doing so.
Creativity is a skill most leaders don’t flex or even consider important. Everyday, a leader needs to be creative in how they attack a problem, strike a deal or motivate the people around them. Creativity takes many forms and the endurance leader uses creativity to zig and zag around the competition, close an important deal or just get through a tough meeting.
Harnessing your creativity can be as simple as understanding that you cannot do all the work, outsourcing your next project or free thinking about non-traditional solutions to your problems — like easy to digest and tasty fuel.
Takeaway: Look for solutions in the least expected places and embrace new ways of solving problems.
Mantra #3: Technology Along Does Not Win Races
Technology is a wonderful thing but it cannot be used in a vacuum. An endurance leader embraces technology but does not fear it nor do they get seduced by the latest trend.
Triathletes make similar decisions on the choice of their equipment. They may buy the most expensive carbon-fiber, ultra light weight road bike but in the end, they still have to peddle it.
Most of us cringe when we think about the pace of innovation and the astronomical amount of choices to host your blog, stay connected with friends, play a video game or do your companies books. The best technology is never a strategic advantage unless you know how to deploy and use it.
Takeaway: Learn about new technology before buying or deploying it
Mantra #4: Seize The Opportunity In Front of You
When competing, endurance athletes have opportunity after opportunity to make a move or seize a small advantage. It might be in your transition from the swim to the run or maybe giving that extra little bit on the big hill assent.
Most of us wait for the perfect moment to grasp the brass ring. Until that happens, we make excuses about how every obstacle is in our way. Endurance leaders recognize those obstacles as the opportunity. By solving the problems in front of you, more opportunities are created.
Seizing these opportunities gives you practice in making decisions and getting things done. These small opportunities prepare you for the big opportunities.
Takeaway: Solve the problem in front of you
Mantra #5: Sometimes, Even Tough Guys Walk
Escape from the Rock is the down home version of televised, Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon. I say down home because most outsiders don’t know about it and it’s a low key production. Part of both races is the wicked sand ladder. To say that the sand ladder is an endurance test, is like saying the SAT’s are just a pop quiz. It’s a grueling climb up the side of a sandy hill and they even have wood planks to assist you. Yeah, it’s that bad.
The sand ladder humbles all who climb it. It’s not that you don’t want to charge up the thing — you can’t. It’s too steep, slippery from the sand and uneven. At the sand ladder, everyone is equal — even the toughest guy.
At some point, all of us have felt beaten down, been injured or just failed. It’s just part of existing. The endurance leader understands that setbacks will happen and adjusts to either slow down or play another day. For the endurance athlete, setbacks happen due to injury or just plain fatigue. Some days, you just can’t hit your personal best, ride in the rain or even do that open water swim.
Endurance leaders embrace the journey and know when it’s time to slow down or cancel a project they still have a positive attitude. Quitting can be a demeaning and depressing state but sometimes necessary. As most endurance athletes know, it’s better to stop than risk injury.
Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to adjust your strategy or stop going down the wrong path.
Mantra #6: Take Your Time But Hurry Up
Most new endurance athletes make the same basic mistakes — overtraining and setting too aggressive a pace. These two mistakes end up making them frustrated and not able to perform well on race day. Just like I did on my 1st marathon — over trained and set a way too wicked a pace. Most endurance athletes come to understand that pace is important because they must maximize their training benefit without being exhausted for race day.
For leaders, pace sets the tone and tenor of your leadership. Too often, leaders race out ahead and end up burning the team out or going down the wrong path. A wise leader understands that you need to take your time to get things done right but hurry up so you can still be relevant.
Leaders can fall into this same trap by not understanding how to push themselves and their team for maximum productivity and efficiency. The myth about the more hours you work, the more successful you will will become, is misguided. It’s not about how much you work but what you get done when you work that matters.
Takeaway: Set a sustainable pace that you and your team can handle.
Mantra #7: Just Keep Moving
My good friend Tony (Endorphin Dude) has a great mantra — just keep moving. He takes on marathon after marathon with the attitude that all he has to do is finish. No personal bests. No world records — just finish. That’s a powerful motivator since most of us want to be the best, finish first and beat the competition.
All of those ideas are noble things to aspire to but sometimes, you just have to keep moving to push through a barrier or blockage. Like when Tony fell at his 1st marathon. He walked it off, calmed himself and kept moving.
Even tough seasoned athletes find that exhaustion makes them weak. It can sap your motivation and momentum. Combating this exhaustion takes the realization that if you just keep moving, even at a slower pace, you can continue on and breakthrough tough times.
All too often, leaders give up when they feel frustrated or encounter an obstacle. When you do this, you lose the momentum you worked so hard to build up. When you keep moving, even a little bit, you keep that momentum going.
Momentum is a powerful force that once built, can take you far. Just think of the cyclist that finally cresses the hill and can now glide down the back side. That built up momentum allows them to rest, regroup and be ready to attack the next hill or challenge.
Takeaway: Even if you hit a barrier, just keep pushing until you can’t push anymore.
The First Step is to Start
Each one of these secrets is part of the endurance athletes mosaic of skills, attitudes and traits that motivate them to get up every morning to train and compete. Now, you can apply these same mosaic of skills to your organization or business.
Endurance leaders know how to push through adversity while still maintaining their focus on what’s important. They build value at a sustainable pace by harnessing the resources around them in creative and innovative ways.
BTW, I did finish my second marathon. No bonking. No walking. I even sprinted at the end. It felt great. I finally conquered the beast.