Leadership Style: Marathon or 5K run?

Sunday, at 8 am in 38 degree weather with a 10 mph wind, I ran the Battleship Half Marathon in Wilmington, NC. I achieved my personal record at 2 hours 9 minutes and 26 seconds. I knocked off 4 minutes from my previous best in my first half marathon last November. I had a plan…a strategy…tactics even! I stuck to my plan and I achieved my goal to beat 2 hours and 10 minutes.

As I was running it struck me that planning, training and completing a marathon has a lot of similarities to leading an organization.

My Running Plan


Here are my thoughts on planning a long distance run, which I believe apply to running an organization as well.

  • Recognize that this is a long distance race: If you are in it for the long haul, then you had better not waste all your energy in the first few miles or you will have little resources left when you need to overcome unforeseen tough patches along the way and as you head down the final stretch.
  • Have milestones for critical stages of the plan: I identified how fast I was going to run at different stages of the race. I knew my planned speed and how far I should be at at various points. Chunking the overall race into manageable pieces made it seem easier to accomplish and provided me regular positive motivation.
  • Use a feedback system: I used a Garmin wrist monitor to give me feedback along the way: my current pace, my pace for that mile segment, my time for that mile segment and my overall time. In real time I readily knew what adjustments I needed to make to achieve my plan for each segment and hence achieve my overall goal.
  • Plan your tactics: My plan was to run at an easy pace going up hills and then pick up speed going down to achieve my target pace for that mile segment and conserve my energy.
  • Anticipate obstacles: Knowing that the last couple of miles were mostly uphill, with mile 12 being the highest point on the course, I ran a little faster on easier parts of the course to allow for a potentially slower pace on the uphill parts.
  • Refresh and motivate: I continued to fuel my body and mind with water and energy snacks. At some point in the course, running is just as much mental as physical. Your mind starts questioning why you are doing this, whether you can really make it, and even “Why bother? Just give it up now.”
  • Target your competition: I identified other runners along the way who I decided I would either keep pace with, or pull ahead of. It helped to have this focus on a short term visible target.

      As a leader, are you using 5 K tactics when you are really in a marathon?

      Some leaders treat every project as a 5 K race and keep their organizations running at full speed. Worse yet are leaders who don’t have a clear strategy, action plans and milestones. It’s just “Go take that hill!” again…and again…and again. It is inefficient, many times ineffective and definitely unsustainable. It leads to burn out, mistakes and employee churn.

      Taking a long distance strategic view of your business allows you to consciously decide when it is best to “run hard” to overcome obstacles or achieve short term critical goals. A clear and shared view of the “end game” will help avoid too many 5K runs and make it easier to sustain focused efforts in the short term that will result in long term wins….and arrive there with the energy to move onto the next one.

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