I recently finished the Great Wall Marathon in China – my fifth marathon on my fifth continent with a goal to running a marathon on all 7 continents. Running for almost 7 hours, a lot goes through your head. There are some obvious parallels between my professional life as a WCG client partner across multiple pharma clients and international endurance running. Here are 4 things I thought about this time while I was running that I have continued to think about while sitting back at my desk this week:
Goal setting is key to how you define success and how you adapt over the course of the run. Do I want to take it easy and enjoy the scenery? Do I want to cross the line with my friends? Do I want to try to run a personal best (the coveted “PB”)? Do I just want to get it done so my toenails don’t fall off? The truth is that what mattered at the start of the run (getting a PB) changed by the end (enjoy the scenery). Just getting it done wasn’t reward enough…getting it done in a way it was meaningful to me was.
Business Translation: Know client goals and check in throughout a project as the goals may change without you or the client articulating them clearly.
Carrying other people
I ran 10km with a struggling friend. In the end, I had to decide if helping him across the line was worth the energy it was costing me to slow my pace and cheer him on. In this instance, I stayed with him and he ended up cheering me on (by singing U2 Beautiful Day) when I needed it later. But in other instances I’ve had to wish a fellow runner good luck as we each trudged on alone. There is often a lot of discussion around leaders “carrying the field”. Leaders push the field and bring people with them as they stride along tackling terrains, pushing the pace and providing motivation. But carrying people can also slow a leader down, drain them of valuable energy, and cause resentment both by the carrier and the carriee (pull your own weight/stop pushing me). True leaders think about their goals (sometimes carrying someone is the goal) and make the critical decision about when to let go. Everyone needs to learn to run their own race and be given the space to do it.
Business Translation: Pay attention to which of your colleagues and clients are paced with you and of which you need to let go in order to foster leadership in them and ensure you maintain energy to pursue your leadership goals.
Making yourself feel normal
For 99% of people, running a marathon (let alone one with 5,164 vertical steps) is crazy. They’re supportive, but affectionately shake their heads. Post-marathon, while rubbing aching calves and icing knees, there is always the enthusiastic next challenge discussion where someone says, “Isn’t it great to be amongst people that make you feel normal? At home we are marathon freaks, but here we just feed each other’s addiction!” It isn’t just about surrounding yourself with more adventurous people that you can learn from (who knew there was a 5-day survival marathon in the Amazon?!), but also surrounding yourself with like-minded people. They don’t have to be in the same discipline (ultra-marathoners, iron man triathletes and mountain climbers, oh my!) as cross-functional learning is often illuminating.
Business Translation: Find people whose outlook is similar in how to assess a challenge, invest in preparation, get it done and value the same goals in the process. So in your teams and with your clients, while you are each working alone, you are fostering a best practices in multiple formats.
The Great Wall Marathon has a total vertical of 4,000 feet (there were several long, steep brutal inclines). On more than one occasion, and sometimes every time I passed a kilometer marker, I asked myself, “WHY are you doing this?! You could have at least run a flat marathon!” To which I answer myself, “But look at the view and what you already achieved…Be stubborn. Be epic.” While the challenge to run 42km pushes physical comfort zones, the scenery of a foreign culture provides a welcome distraction from aching hamstrings. Each marathon is different (London – classic road run, Greenland – glacier run, Antarctica – extreme cold run, Victoria Falls – extreme heat run), but collectively prepare me for the next…the basics of marathon running remain the same, but are applied uniquely to get across the line with a different view for each achievement.
Business Translation: Think laterally when thinking globally. When we narrowly focus on the differences between client challenges, whether industry or geographic, we can miss the opportunity to leverage lateral solutions with unique perspectives in order to expand solutions globally and achieve epic programs.
As for me, I have 2 continents left on which to run marathons (Amazon jungle here I come!). My goal is to enjoy the places I have gotten to run and the thinking I do while ticking off the miles. I am looking forward to being both personally and professionally inspired by marathon leaders. And I am going to continue to build a network of marathon freaks to feed my addictive passion. All while drawing analogies to help me be a better runner, leader and person.