Recently, I started training for a marathon, my first marathon. To put this in context, I’m not exactly a runner. I am an athlete. I play sports and have dabbled in some 10k’s and mid range triathlons, but never a full marathon. As I’ve been training for this event, I have noticed myself drawing several comparisons to the journey of leadership.
When I first started training, I could not imagine how I would run 26 miles. I had never run more than 10 miles at a time. My most recent runs were in the range of 4 miles. I started focusing so much on the end goal that I was getting in my own way of my progress as well as of my enjoyment of the progress. There lies lesson one. Leadership is not a sprint.
Have you ever managed a new employee that wants all the benefits, privileges and responsibilities of a position without putting in the time, and following the process of development? Have you ever been that employee? Have you ever been frustrated when learning something new? Part of the growth equation requires patience. You can’t do it all in one day and you can’t go out and run 26 miles right away. If you try to, then there will be consequences: a pulled muscle, a strained knee, or a damaged reputation at work. Our bodies need time to adjust. You as a leader and learner need time for new and ever evolving leadership behaviors to feel familiar. Focus on inputs, patiently, and the results will come.
Next, recognize the difference between temporary pain and real danger. On longer runs and after weeks of training, my body sometimes hurts. At first, I noticed something feel tight and I would stop. After a few weeks, I noticed that there was always something that hurt. I was after all, training for a marathon and not out for a simple jog. Here’s lesson two. You’ve got to be able to deal with some temporary pain. I’m not talking about running through a fracture or sticking with an abusive job situation. With learning, with growing, there is some pain. Today’s organizations go through more change in a year than previous generations did in a decade. Along with that change will come some pain. If we stop every time there is some pain or a set back, then we stay exactly the same. Trying to stay the same, when the world around you is changing, is in fact quite painful and lasts much longer.
What is your tolerance for discomfort? What is your pattern? At the first sign of a problem, or pain in your career or organization, what does that little voice in your head tell you? I invite you to tune into that voice, get familiar with it and your pattern. If you can notice it, then you can drive it and not let it drive you. This point brings me to lesson three. Watch your mind.
Marathon training takes a great deal of time. At first, I thought that I would load up the Walkman,.. uh, … iPod, and just disappear into three hours of music. I actually found it distracting and not in a good way. I was curious about what I was missing and what I was “masking” by using music. Instead, I started tuning into my own thoughts, noticing what was going on in my head. What were the thoughts that were contributing to a good run and what thoughts were creeping in that were not helping me get me through an 18 mile run. I often noticed a slew of negative thoughts. My knee hurts. I’m tired. My feet hurt. My body wanted me to stop.
Then, I stopped trying to mask these thoughts. I tuned in, acknowledged them and then asked myself, what else could I be telling myself that would help me through this run. I started thinking that I am so lucky to be able to run, to have this time. My lungs feel great. My hands feel good. My sneakers are cool. Whatever would allow me to contact something positive, I would focus on it. For me, it helped a great deal and it made a difference. Research shows the positive impact that we have on our own attitude by simply smiling. Your attitude matters and so do the stories that you tell yourself when you are going through a hard time.
What does your mind say when things gets tough? Tune into it. Change the story to help serve you, support you and not stop you or hurt you. “The moment that you stop moving towards your goals, then you become the obstacle”, (unknown). Recognize what are true dangers and what are just puddles on the training run of your leadership growth.
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Be patient. Keep running, keep growing, and keep leading your life. Enjoy!
Thanks for reading! I wish you success, courage, and support on your leadership journey.
Larysa Slobodian, Principal Consultant (and future marathoner)
L4 Leadership LLC