People vs. Pods

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Let’s talk about headphones…

Training alone? Put em on! Crank up that sweaty soundtrack. I’m a fan who acutely understands music’s powerful influence on exercise.

Add people to the equation and you lose me.

When training with others or racing, headphones are great dividers. Your ‘leave me alone’ statement resonates, even though it may be unintentional.

The advent of ‘get off your butt and train for something’ apps has been awesome. Thousands have downloaded training plans and begun a healthier journey without the intimidation of joining a group. I get that. Comes a time, though, when the crutch must be hung up, when pods bow to people.

There’s a moment in every group training session or race when a comment is appropriate, even helpful. I’m not advocating a 10K long conversation, but there’s something comforting about briefly commiserating about that upcoming hill or encouraging someone to keep going strong.

Now, let’s talk about telephones…

My first suit and tie position was in marketing with United Way of Dutchess County. Our President and CEO was Jack Durkin, a master in schmoozing the powers-that-were to benefit a slew of local non-profits. My first day produced my first meeting with Jack. He’s about to make a point when we’re interrupted by a buzz on his phone.

“Mr. Durkin, Mr. Mack is on the phone.”

“Thanks, please tell him I’ll call him back, I’m in here with George. Also, no more interruptions please.”

I was more important to Jack Durkin than the President and CEO of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp.

The message was loud and clear; I mattered. I was pumped, honored, and engaged.

When you’re with an employee:

  • Don’t answer the phone – don’t even look at it if it rings.
  • If you have room set up a place to sit and talk separate from your desk.
  • Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact…

When you’re with an employee there is nothing more important than that person, right there, in front of you. If anything less than a fire distracts you, you’re simply being disrespectful, even if it is unintentional.

Like headphones in a race…

Let love rule

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If you were to ask me what traits the top athletes I’ve ever known have shared, I’d say humility, warmth of spirit, and an innate ability to connect.

These people show up at races expecting to win, and if you didn’t know that you simply wouldn’t. Not until you see them cheering you across the finish line…in street clothes.

Technically, they are at the top of their games. They have competency, knowledge, and experience. However, you meet a warm, wonderful person with no pretense interested in you and your goals.

Look a little deeper and you’ll find an insatiable desire to improve, to gather knowledge, hone technique, and shave off seconds, all fueled by confidence and a burning competitive desire. At the end of the day, they have our respect, friendship, and admiration.

Now, what do we lead with as managers?

Competency, knowledge, and experience.

Warmth and personal connection too often takes a back seat, after we’ve marked our territory with corporate legitimacy.

We’ve got it backwards.

An article in the Harvard Business Review cites research illustrating the critical importance of connecting first, then leading.

We don’t connect when we establish ourselves as the experts and dominate conversation with what we know. We connect when we genuinely ask our people to talk about their favorite subject – themselves. Then, we listen, remember, and check in regularly.

A few signs you care:

  • You take the time to get to know your employees and what’s generally going on in their lives. You’re not the last to know that Jennifer is pregnant or Dan is engaged.
  • You stop by their workspace unannounced, sit down, and see how they’re doing. Hospital patients will rate their experiences more favorable when their physician pulls up a chair during their visit, regardless how much time they actually remain in the room. It makes a statement – I’m here for you.
  • Know your employee’s professional dreams and do everything you can to help them achieve these goals.

Bottom line, you can be loved and respected. Make it easy on yourself – lead with love.

I have seen (and sat in) the enemy

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There comes a time in your athletic career when you just have to do the miles. Perhaps you’re not feeling in top form, maybe it’s raining, could be cold or hot, whatever, pick your excuse.

But, you just have to do the miles, so you head out.

“Get off your ass,” as Coach Justin Harris is prone to say.

Same applies at the office. That comfy, 360 degree spinning cushion is your death sentence. Not only is sitting bad for your health, it also keeps you away from your peeps. Anything keeping you from your people must be looked at with a very critical eye.

But wait, there’s hope.

Become the pioneer of walking meetings in your office. Pick a destination or map a large out and back and walk the talk. Get the word out on what you’re doing and start a trend. If you get good at it you might even begin using your GPS and see if you can start a competition on Strava among fellow managers.

Aside from a healthy alternative to sitting, the walking meeting becomes a symbol of health, innovation, and transparency.

Check out this awesome TED Talk on the subject.

Try it out and let me know how it goes.

The Start

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I’ve never known anyone who exclusively races.

It’s been my pleasure to cross paths with so many wonderful people along my athletic path. We share a love of our sport and desire to do it whenever possible. Whether we’re following a training plan or letting the wind dictate the day’s direction, our active moments are cherished. 

I race to train, embracing the lifestyle, not merely a series of competitions. 

What’s the parallel in management?

Ask yourself…

  • When and how do I practice management?
  • What form does my management ‘training’ take?
  • When I do train, is it one-way communication, with me the one receiving?
  • How does my management style reflect my lifestyle?

The basic principle of improvement by practice fueled by passion applies to athlete and manager alike. 

In order to be the best manager you must practice, out loud, with others, frequently.

Athletes and managers who train with stronger colleagues progress quicker. When we surround ourselves with people whose strengths are complementary to ours, we raise the bar for everyone. 

Let’s get started:

  1. Identify a team of managers who are willing to train together. Find them at work, online, or in your circle of friends. Reach out and make this happen – people will appreciate it.
  2. Set a meeting time and discuss your idea. Get your training partners onboard.
  3. Bring to the table your own strengths and challenges. Self-reflection is key to success. Only when we know ourselves can we make a real contribution.
  4. Set personal and group goals. There should be time set aside for discussion, role playing, webinars, book discussion, etc. The possibilities are endless, which is why you need a plan for yourself and the group.

Begin at the beginning, get the group together, and you’re on your way.

The sport of management

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It all became clear on mile 18 of the run at Ironman Lake Placid.

My day began at 7 a.m. with a raucous swim with 2,600 colleagues, all determined to hear those words ‘you are an Ironman’ some 9 to 16 hours later. Then, on to a 112 mile bike ride through the majestic Adirondack mountains…emphasis on mountains.

It was with 18 of 26 miles behind me on the grand finale – a marathon – that I called an emergency meeting of my management team. It was do or die time. We needed to be on the same page or this thing faced the real risk of going south.

We entered the executive boardroom. At the table, my legs, lower back, and feet. Endurance and strength had checked in as had common sense and spirit, arguing as usual.

The meeting came to order and after a full systems check negotiations began. Body parts okayed a speed increase, but only to that electric pole. Endurance agreed to chill between poles, then strength chimed in – supplies were limited, but available. It would have to be strategically rationed.

Common sense appealed to stop and regroup. Spirit then gave a rousing speech about family (waiting at the finish line) and something about freedom and America.

Once again, common sense was voted down.

From that point to a triumphant finish I managed myself forward. Later, I would reflect on the incredible similarities between being an endurance athlete and a manager. The parallels are endless, so, here we are, about to explore management as sport and becoming a better manager by training like an athlete.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Let’s have some fun!

George