What Comrades runners can teach you about how to lead at work

In our modern world of convenience, there is something about marathons. People choosing the hard road, putting their physical and mental endurance to the test, is increasingly rare. With the Comrades season coming up soon, a few surprising parallels emerge for leaders. Read on to see what you can learn about excelling at your business from experienced marathon runners.

There’s no such thing as a quick win
Perhaps you could put it down to our easy 21st-century existence, but we all want success yesterday, not ten years from now. But for those of us who aren’t Bruce Fordyce, slow and steady really does win the race, in leadership and in life.

Many leaders want to impress shareholders, loved-ones and clients by being a rapidly rising star and getting enormous successes right out the gate. Unfortunately, those who pursue this usually neglect family, run roughshod over colleagues or staff who don’t want to work fifteen-hour days and even sacrifice their own health and sanity to achieve a hollow prize.

Marathon runners know that any true victory is made in the long haul over months and years of training without any recognition. Good leaders know it too.

Fortune favours the well-prepared
It seems counter-intuitive, but many otherwise rational leaders start a new project or a new business without ever really planning for the possibility that it might fail. It seems like negative, counterproductive thinking, right?

But ultramarathon runners have been doing this for years with one simple tool: visualisation. An experienced runner will not only physically prepare for an arduous race, but mentally will imagine in detail the exact moment when it seems their legs are about to give way or they think of quitting.

They then prepare a strategy of exactly how they’re going to keep themselves going. It’s a great lesson for business leaders too. Don’t just imagine the day when the champagne and bouquets are passed around, imagine the 4am worries and the crippling doubts and get a strategy to deal with it before it happens.

Uncommon leadership advice: be here
Forward thinking can only rake you so far, and many marathon runners will tell you that it’s not always the best idea. Think about it – you’re on the starting line, the gun goes… and you envision the hours and hours of hell ahead of you. It’s enough to make anyone turn around and go home.

Instead, Comrades runners need to learn to plan for the worst but, once they’re in the race, just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time. Same with marathons, same with leadership.

Another benefit of being present as a leader is being more engaged with your team. It’s tough for someone thinking of 11 months’ time to ask themselves how their staff are doing right now and what they need to put in their best performance. Be present, but also think about others’ present states. A happy team is a productive one, after all.

Have a great week and remember – life is about the journey and not the destination. Focus on running well, leading well, and you’ll be just fine.

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