Desires trump demands

free yourself

Demands will consume us if we let them.

Recently, my athletic demands outweighed my desires, creating an imbalance between what I had to do and what I wanted to do.

I found myself wanting to explore new and uncharted territory, like Crossfit, shorter, faster rides and runs, and endurance pursuits off my radar screen. I knew I needed to stick to my Ironman training plan, so shorter triathlons in exotic places and branching out into other intense endurance events were merely dreams.

Then, I realized – I have control.

The juggling ended when I decided to forgo the 2014 Ironman Lake Placid – which would have been number eight – to reset my compass and explore other endurance pursuits. I’m toying with some real doozies (stay tuned.) The freedom to dream big and expand my horizons feels great.

When demands creep up and stealthily grab hold of our precious free time it’s much easier to recognize and reverse than when it happens at work.

Forbes reported last year that a majority of us are dissatisfied workers. However, we’re not moving or going anywhere. Fear of a dried up job market? Bills to pay? Comfort in misery? Regardless, the numbers look bad.

This is sad. We are so much more than what we do, yet we let demands define us in unnatural ways. I’ve been there, carrying my workday around like a weight into every other aspect of my life. And why?

Demands.

In the same way I came to the realization I was insane for limiting my athletic pursuits we must take ownership of the work we do. Ask yourself:

  • What have I compromised for my work, and is it worth it?
  • How much of my day is spent reacting to demands?
  • What professional goals are purely mine and how much time do I spend achieving them?
  • Is my brain stale? When was the last time I purposefully learned something new?
  • Who am I really working for?

There is no overnight solution to this dilemma. Your journey towards your desires will take time, but will only commence when you purposefully plot your course, stick to it, measure your progress, and by all means take that first step.

I’m also not naive enough to imagine a life with no demands. Of course they will always exist, but we must fight to reclaim our precious time and effort. Perhaps someone else has quantified the price of my time, but to me it’s priceless.

We’re not going to get a second chance at this thing called life, folks. Think about your desires and how you can get on with the business of achieving them.

Start with your support crew. Who among them are invested in your desires and who keeps churning out the demands?

Define your desires and set your goals. Once you have the beginnings of a road map, start your journey with a single step. Make deliberate changes, celebrate success, then take the next step. You’ll find that one change will ignite the next and you’ll reclaim what should always be yours.

Just do it

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Our obsession to dissect and understand leadership and elite fitness has gradually elevated both out of the reach to mere mortals.

Fact is, you can become a leader and attain a level of elite fitness, it just depends on how hard you’re willing to work.

Leading a group ride is a perfect example. As the point person, you must assemble a team of riders, map out your destination and route (cue sheet), set a meeting time, distribute the cue sheet, review it with everyone, answer questions, begin the ride, deal with faster and slower riders, mechanical issues, flats, and other unplanned challenges, and make sure everyone gets back in one piece. Then there’s the post-ride celebration, everything from muffins in the parking lot to microbrews in the pub.

It’s a Leadership 101 lesson.

For that glorious ride you are a leader. If you think you need to adopt someone else’s seven habits, go for it, otherwise tap in to what you’re already doing.

Finding your inner elite athlete is as easy as setting and attaining goals. Reaching your goals may never be simple, but the blueprint to get you there ain’t brain surgery.

Navigating the road to excellence takes risk, sweat, pain, and a plan. Are you willing to leave your comfort zone and take the next step?

This could mean:

  • Making unpopular decisions that are best for the overall strategic direction of your organization.
  • Pushing yourself physically in ways you never have.
  • Collecting and analyzing data on your professional and athletic progress.
  • Rearranging your time to selfishly spend some of it developing you.
  • Consistently upgrading the quality of how you’re spending your time exercising, learning, and developing your skills.

How often do we hold ourselves back? From negative self-talk to low self-esteem, fear of failure to time constraints, we have enough shackling us without imagining our goals already out of reach.

I have a friend, Liz (pictured above) who recently won first place in her age group at a 5K. Her athletic journey has been one of balancing family, friends, obligations, work, and exercising. Like all of us, she’s had successes and setbacks, and through it all she’s made time for her athletic passion and continued to push herself beyond her limits.

I imagine it wasn’t so long ago the idea that she would be wearing a first place 5K medal seemed unthinkable to her. Today, that medal motivates my amazing friend to take her fitness to even higher levels because she is driven to improve.

Drive can be misread as obsessiveness when in fact it’s healthy and necessary for progress. It can be developed over time and incorporated into everything you do with hard work and commitment.

When you make the decision to be a leader and take your athletic life to the next level look inside yourself; you’ll find all the tools you need.

The Swim

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The ultimate goal in a triathlon swim is efficiency.

Speed and power take a back seat to a well-positioned body slicing through the water. In fact, inefficient form turns power into a disadvantage. Poor body position creates too much drag and you end up swimming uphill, sapping your precious strength. Eventually you’ll finish, but you’ll face the rest of your race exhausted.

The best swimmers create little disruption in the water, aerodynamically working with the flow, not against.

When a challenging situation arises at work and you’re placed in a position to have a difficult conversation with someone, are you fighting the water or slicing through it?

Too often we fight the water by creating win/lose situations with employees. Face it, win/lose is lose/lose for a manager, because if we win, of course we did, we’re ‘The Boss.’

The key is efficiency.

There are many tools that help us swim more efficiently. Wetsuits make us buoyant, training makes us stronger, coaching points out our challenges and gives us a plan for improvement. Our most effective tools for efficiency in dealing with a challenging employee is the question, and of course, training and coaching.

You hear from someone that Dan called Fred a dumbass, so you ask Dan why he called Fred a dumbass. Putting Dan on the defensive creates the win/lose. It’s now you and Fred vs. Dan.

Instead, “Dan, why am I hearing you called Fred a dumbass?” kicks off a very different conversation.

By asking questions, you give your employee the benefit of the doubt while controlling the conversation. Control is key; once you lose it, you lose.

When you meet with your management training team, set up scenarios like the one above and do your best to have a complete question-based conversation with your challenging employee. Role play with your team to see how far you can go with your questioning on an issue.

Questions like:

  • Why am I hearing this?
  • How could this have happened?
  • Why would she say that?
  • How does this help our department?
  • How does this get us closer to our goal?
  • What do you propose we do about this?

Channel your inner Columbo to become a proficient questioner and you will become a stronger manager.

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…

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.