Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ultrarunning as a Leadership Tool

I have been leading and mentoring others since I was 19 years old. I even have a degree in the subject. However I wasn't always very good at it. When I was 19 I was a do as I say because I said so kind of leader. Any one who has ever been a leader knows this technique never works. This is the technique of the weak and inexperienced leader. This is the technique of the "manager" or the "boss" not of a leader. Hopefully I have improved somewhat in the last 30 years but I will leave that judgement up to others. What I do know is I have learned a lot about the subject and I have a strong opinion on what a good leader should do.

Another subject I have learned a lot about is ultra distance or ultramarathon running. Ultramarathon distances vary from the 50KM to multiple day stage races that cover hundreds of miles. Basically an ultramarathon is anything farther than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.In the last few years the sport has become my passion and my favorite way to pass the time. I often spend the weekends on long training runs as I prepare for my next race. I have a lot of time to think on these runs and during one of them it occurred to me the planning and preparation for an ultramarathon mirrors the necessary planning and preparation that is conducted by a good leader.

1. You Need To Have a Goal- In ultrarunning your goal might be completing a certain distance, conquering a certain race or beating a certain time. As a leader your goal may be to build a cohesive team, lower your overtime percentage or decrease turnover. Whatever your goal is a good leader has one. Goals provide focus for training and give your team something to work towards. Goals are never static however because once a goal is achieved it ceases to become a goal and must be replaced with another goal. Organizations that fail to reevaluate their goals become stagnant.

2. You Need To Make a Plan- In preparing for an ultra the runner must develop a training plan. This is done by conducting research, evaluating priorities, making choices and deciding on a particular plan. Perhaps the runner also needs to do a cost benefit analysis to juggle his/her training plan with an already busy schedule and or family life. Leaders need to do the same. What do successful companies in their industry do? What are the priorities of actions and what is the intent to be accomplished? What are the resources necessary to put the plan in place. Leaders must develop a good solid plan to achieve the stated goal.

3. You Need To Execute the Plan- One of my favorite sayings is that "the training schedule doesn't care." What I mean by that is that in ultrarunning you need to stick with the plan. You need to stick to the plan no matter what adjustments need to be made. You might have to switch your long run to Friday when you normally do it on Sunday. However the intent of an ultratraining plan is to build up the base miles and execute the required mileage for the week so the body can handle the stresses of the ultra distance. Although adjustments may need to be made the intent remains the same. The same can be said for a good leader. Adjustments need to be made but the intent remains the same.When I was in the military we had a METL or Mission Essential Task List. This list was exactly what it sounded like a list of essential tasks needed to complete the plan. A good leader will identify the small list of essential things that need to be accomplished for the plan to be a success. Some of these things may be individual tasks or they may be group activities. A good leader will be the guiding hand to keep everyone on track and constantly direct the team towards the stated goal utilizing theses tasks.

4. You Need to Accomplish the Goal- This may seem like a no brainer but accomplishing the goal what the entire leadership experience is about. In ultrarunning there is a acronym called DNF. Simply this stands for Did Not Finish. Most runners that have attempted multiple ultramarathons have at least one DNF under their belt. Sometimes not accomplishing the goal allows us to readjust our plan and use lessons learned from earlier failures. A good leader uses the knowledge gained from setbacks to move forward. Relentless forward progress is another ultra term that applies to leadership. Leaders must keep their eyes on the goal, make adjustments and always move forward even if incrementally. Smaller in progress goals may be set that complement the larger goal.

5. You Need to Reward Success- Ultra runners are often rewarded with a medal or belt buckle or some other bauble when the reach their goal. A good leader also rewards his team when they accomplish their goals. The reward doesn't have to be big but it does have to be thoughtful and tangible. Often the reward is a symbol of the hard road required to reach the goal. As a symbol the reward will become a source of pride that is much bigger than the actual physical reward.

A good leader is like a good runner. Careful,well trained and flexible.

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