I have enjoyed running for exercise most of my life. I was not an Olympian or even a collegiate-level competitor; I just enjoyed distance running and working to improve my speed and performance. I would take off down the road in the dark morning mist several days a week. I closely watched my pace and overall time for each mile as I trotted along, aiming to make steady improvements of 5-10 seconds per mile every time I went for a distance run.
I made progress; however, I could never maintain the pace that I started. I consistently started my first mile or two at a strong pace at the edge of my capability. At miles three and four, I struggled to maintain the pace. At miles five and six, I was off-pace and struggling. Why did this happen to me every run?
Through some coaching, I finally understood the importance of starting at a pace I could maintain. I had to slow down on my first several miles and force myself to be consistent while watching my heart rate. It was counterintuitive to my desire to go faster.
As organizational leaders, we often treat every day like a sprint rather than a marathon. If we are completely exhausted and out of mental energy, how can we effectively guide others and make good decisions? Running your leadership race at a constant sprint has major implications. High stress directly impacts your cognitive functions, interactions with others, and ability to make critical decisions. It can also lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
I learned several lessons from my experience running to help my leadership endurance:
First, pay attention to your heart rate. We often must surge our effort as leaders in times of friction, transition, or high-risk decision-making. These times are stressful. It is crucial to clearly distinguish between when you surge and when you recover. Failure to deliberately bring your stress level or heart rate down will cause you to make less impactful decisions and run out of gas at a critical time.
Second, focus on doing the little things right. Just like stretching and proper nutrition, creating space on your calendar to rest, think, and reflect is vital. Taking mental breaks prevents decision fatigue, strengthens motivation, and increases creativity. Overall, it makes you more productive in the long run.
Next, pass the baton when you can. Delegation is vital. Which tasks can only you accomplish? What decisions can only you make? If a direct report can run the next leg, let them. This simple step will keep your team challenged and motivated while providing time and space to think more strategically.
Finally, stay on pace. This is all about personal discipline. You are a leader because you are good at what you do and are willing to go the extra mile. Have the personal discipline to protect your time and say “no” to interruptions and distractions.
Running the leadership race is challenging, and the work is never done. Our people depend on us to carry the business into the future. Ensure your leadership approach endures for the