Leadership is a Marathon, not a Sprint

Some experiences with running have taught me an awful lot about leadership, humility and communication.

Running is one of those things you either love or despise. You’ve either got a drawer filled with gear of the most garish colours, or you might be the sort of person to think twice about committing to a swift waddle when you see the bus pulling away or a bear behind you.

Since my early teens, I’ve loved running – most of the time. At peak, despite having never broken that elusive 20-minute barrier, I was consistently completing a 5km Parkrun in 21 minutes or so. That massive milestone was edging ever closer, agonisingly beyond gasping lungs and burning muscles.

However, running has become something of a turbulent relationship for me recently. It started with being busy with two young children. It then became, “I don’t have the money to enter all these races.” Then it was a niggling injury. Now, it’s fear that I won’t be able to regain the ground I’ve lost.

Cue two important people and their profound influence.

Josh is an inspiration and a great friend of mine. He caught the running bug back in early 2016. We completed his first Parkrun together – he achieved a challenging course in a completely respectable 33:08. He felt good for completing it; I felt good for helping him.

What was truly amazing, though, was witnessing Josh’s transformation. Running together helped our physical health; it helped my mental health as I battled with post-natal depression following our son’s birth. Josh was dedicated and dropped well over a stone; his times began to plummet. 28 minutes, 27, 26, 25, 24 – his personal best now stands at a staggering 23:07, a full ten minutes faster than three years ago.

So what has Josh taught me about leadership and humility? Simple: I started out as the leader, but I’m not any more. At first, I was helping him – now he’s helping me. He invites me running. We talk. We encourage each other. I can’t hope to get back to my best without the support of Josh. Someday soon, his best might well be faster than mine – I’m alright with that.

In matters of leadership, you’ve got be humble enough to acknowledge that someone you’re helping might someday be the new pacesetter. Treat them that way, and they might just help you along when you need it most.

Just recently, I started helping another friend, Cath. She has a goal to break 30 minutes. Her best is currently 31:58, and on Saturday I paced her round in just over 32 minutes. It was a very warm morning and there was a real sense of achievement; the pace was consistent and there was a strong sprint finish at the end. It was a privilege to be part of.

What is Cath gaining from me? A few strategies and some encouragement. What am I gaining from her? I’m rediscovering my love of running by helping someone else, which in turn might just help push me back to peak performance and breaking that 20-minute barrier.

However, the only reason this run happened was because I communicated with Cath. I offered her my support and honestly confessed I was struggling. I told her that by helping her, it would help me. She was gracious enough to accept my offer. I probably wouldn’t have gone if not for her. Now I’ve been re-infected with the bug.

Here is the next important leadership principle: as a leader, it’s alright to struggle. It’s alright not to have all the answers. It’s not weakness to rely on someone else, even if you think that person is less experienced or accomplished than you. Interdependence is the only way forward.

So, there you have it. In running your own race, sometimes you might be leading and motivating others to pick up their pace. Other days, you might be struggling, discouraged or completely demotivated. Have the humility to call upon others for support. Never limit who you can learn from – you can learn from anyone at any time. Believe in others, even if it means cultivating the humility to accept their achievements may someday exceed yours. You will derive joy from knowing you once helped them. Communicate – honestly and clearly. Offer the help you can. Accept the help you need. Eventually, we will all triumphantly cross that finish line and celebrate together. The victory will be sweeter because it is shared.

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