One good thing

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Burnout is a destination none of us plugs into our GPS. Sometimes we feel it coming, sometimes we don’t.

Time and again we drive ourselves to depletion, recharge our batteries, rinse and repeat.

Training and managing demand physical and mental currency. If we’re writing personal checks from a limited account, how are we making deposits?

I schedule mine.

Prior to entering the world of human resources the best advice I received was from a long-time HR professional who told me to schedule something good every week because the challenges of the position will take their toll. Of course I didn’t follow her advice and sure enough after a while I was toast; fried by a steady stream of seemingly impossible issues.

It was then I decided to set up a small leadership team to review and retool some policies and procedures. The handpicked group clicked and our meetings were productive, interesting, and hilarious, becoming a coveted oasis for each of us.

Together we addressed the real issues of our organization and put thought into action. We were recharging our batteries while creating positive change. It became our ‘one good thing.’

In addition to my passion for triathlon, I also share a love for each of its three components. A few years ago I had heard of a cycling stage race called the Tour of the Catskills, which included a stage called the Assault on Devil’s Kitchen, promising a shot at one of the Hudson Valley’s steepest climbs. I was so in, who cared if it was only two weeks after Ironman Lake Placid.

I completed this race three times, each year postponing my post-Ironman recovery and risking serious injury in the process. Last year I collapsed on the grass behind my car after the race, body, mind, and spirit completely empty.

Afterwards, I came to my senses and reminded myself why I do this – because it’s my passion and supposed to be fun.

This year, instead of the grueling climb up Devil’s Kitchen, I scheduled an olympic triathlon one month after Ironman Lake Placid, approaching it with the exuberance of a rookie. I had a blast, enjoying Old Orchard Beach, Maine and a million laughs with my girlfriend, Kathy, and our friend Mario.

The olympic triathlon reignited everything I love about triathlon and living an active lifestyle.

Now, I’m not advocating scheduling dinner with the family to recharge your batteries. I know it seems to work, but only in a roundabout way. Avoiding true burnout involves a process of regularly being reminded what you love about what you do, not escaping what you do for what you love.

You must find your peace inside the craziness. If you have to escape to recharge your batteries outside your work environment, you’re in the wrong place.

Make a habit of reminding yourself why you do what you do and celebrate your passions by scheduling your one good thing right now.

Who are you?

running-alone

You are what you do when no one’s watching.

On the Ironman Lake Placid run course, there are ample opportunities to slow down, walk, rest, even drop out of the race. At mile 13.1 there’s a fork in the road. To the right, the finish line and Mike Reilly’s comforting voice audibly excited as he gloriously anoints faster finishers ‘Ironmen.’ To the left, a second, painful 13.1-mile loop.

In each of my seven trips to Lake Placid, this moment falsely presents itself as a choice. My inner voice always suggests ending the insanity. It tells me my family and friends would understand, that this was crazy to try again anyway. Stop, turn right, give it up…

Of course stopping is never a real consideration. I always have and always will turn left at the halfway point and finish the race.

Then there are those moments alone in the trenches on Riverside Drive fighting the temptation to back off, slow down, take it easy; moments that define your Ironman journey.

In the office there are as many opportunities to cut corners and take the easy path.

Perhaps you’ve heard trouble brewing but decided to let it go. That phone call you don’t want to return, that paperwork you half-read then signed, the article you didn’t read, the performance appraisal you threw together at the last minute, the snap decision made in the midst of a crises.

Self awareness is key to overcoming this disease. Once we admit we’re corner cutters we can focus on a concerted effort to do the distances and tasks necessary to fulfill our destinies. Strengthening our ability to be honest and encouraging to ourselves is worth the effort.

Knowing yourself is key to success, allowing you to be your biggest critic and fan.

Opportunities to train look like this:

  • The next time you exercise, commit to surprising yourself with something extra, whether it be during or after your workout. Push yourself harder, go further, dig deeper than ever before. Make the commitment, then follow through.
  • At work, commit to resolving the next issue that arises by the end of the day. Let it happen randomly, consider it, reconsider it, then make a decision you’re ready to defend.
  • Sign up for a race that will push you harder than ever before. Put it on your calendar, then raise the bar on your training even if it’s just a little. Set yourself up for success.
  • The next time you come across a snap decision opportunity, put the brakes on. Tell those involved you really would like to sleep on it. Quickly write down your gut decision, then consider the alternatives later on. Give it the night, then see if you’re decision was altered in any way over time.
  • Recognize those moments when you’re faced with a choice that shouldn’t be a choice. This is when your self awareness needs to kick in big time.

When you begin doing the little things right, when no one’s watching, the larger issues will fall in line.

Remember, whether training, racing, or leading, someone is always watching…you.

Own your path

own-it

As a manager and athlete there is no shortage of advice out there.

Magazines, books, podcasts, TED Talks, websites, seminars, consultants; counsel comes fast and furious. Our challenge is to keep the white noise in perspective and remember our personal style defines us.

A few months after my first triathlon I returned to Harriman State Park for another crack at the course. I had my new bike, wetsuit, triathlon shorts and shirt, the works. At the race a guy was selling cushioned socks. I picked up a pair and felt softness like never before. I knew these were the most comfortable socks in the world, so I bought them and put them away for another day.

Never try anything new on race day…never!

A few days later I took my new socks for a test drive and my feet were in heaven. My blind allegiance to the ‘never new on race day’ advice read in one of my biblical magazines postponed what would have been a joyful race day run.

‘Nothing new on race day’ remains great advice. I ran alongside a poor soul during the 2011 Ironman Lake Placid who had taken salt pills for the first time that morning because someone told her she needed the sodium replenishment. She was hoping to qualify for the World Triathlon Championship in Kona but was reduced to a slow walk/jog because the pills made her sick. Her dreams dashed, she ate from a bag of potato chips.

First time salt pills on race day = bad idea.

At best, this is advice and must be treated as such. When we blindly internalize suggestions and guidelines we become defined by something other than our instincts. This is never good. The most amazing managers and leaders regularly look at the status quo and ask why, bring common sense and personality to the table, break rules, and push boundaries.

When was the last time you heard someone say, “They followed the rules to greatness”?

Our relationship with personnel policies conjures similar questions. Too often I’ve seen people’s common sense and intuition take a back seat to a written policy. Policies are like any other guidelines or advice; some are necessary and helpful while others are outdated and divisive. You must engage your judgment – who you are at your core – to know the difference. When you reach a conclusion that things must change, as a leader and advocate for your team you must speak up and act.

Ask yourself:

  • Do your policies support or thwart your people?
  • Are vacations regularly denied?
  • Is there a general feeling of haves and have nots?
  • Are there policies that when brought up cause managers to groan, i.e. dress code and cell phone guidelines?

If so, instead of living with the mediocrity, put your stamp on some overdue change.

While you’re at it, conduct a judgment audit on yourself. For one week write down moments when your actions or those around you clash with your instincts. Review your list and ask yourself why. Are your actions – athletic and professional – rooted in your own mind and heart, or someone else’s?

You can learn from, collaborate with, and teach others, but at the end of the day you own your greatness.

Word!

the goose

At the base of the Harriman State Park Alps I prepared to attack my first real climb at my first triathlon…

I was still dripping from the half-mile swim in Lake Sebago, the final three quarters in an all-out breaststroke which I’d pay dearly for later. After hopping on my Mongoose Hill Topper, affectionately known as The Goose (pictured above), I became increasingly frustrated every time I was passed…which was a lot. I banged The Goose into the highest gear possible and wrecked my legs on the rolling hills leading to the climb. Once I reached the Alps, I gazed up at the task ahead, down at my stalwart cycle, and charged forward on my fateful ascent.

It took everything I had to find a rhythm. After several crunching downshifts I ran out of easier gears. This cadence would kill me, but I had to finish my quest, even if it would be an inglorious ending to a brief triathlon career.

Then Mr. Triathlon appeared.

He pulled up beside me, his sleek, steely stallion slowing alongside The Goose.

“Not easy on those fat tires.”

I shook my head, managing a grimaced smile.

“First time?”

Nodding, breathing hard, still unable to speak…

“Well, there’s nothing like buying a new bike.”

Grimace.

“Stay with this and you’ll go places you never thought possible. Have a great race.”

Then, like my dreams of a podium finish, he was gone.

Perhaps it was a blip on his radar, but that brief one-sided conversation changed my life. My mindset shifted. I began thinking about buying the right bike, pursuing this sport, and more importantly staying with this climb.

I reached the top and after a hard fought series of shorter hills transitioned to the run. By then I realized why triathletes don’t do breaststroke; my legs were screaming. Immediately after crossing the finish line I began strategizing, laying out plans for total tri-immersion. I was hooked.

The business lingo for my moment with Mr. Triathlon is ‘touchpoint,” or basic human interaction. The thing about interacting is you just can’t predict what sticks. Sometimes it’s not what we expect, hope, or intend.

After almost a year interning in Albany I mapped out my career in politics. I was enamored with the process, power, and prestige. My change-the-world idealism peaked when I managed an interview with an influential member of the Senate, a graduate of my college.

When he asked about my political party, I told him I had not yet chosen. He scoffed at my indecision.

“Come back and see me when you’ve made up your mind.”

Right or wrong, I was done, my political career ended instantly. I can’t imagine he intended to extinguish my fire, but he did.

As managers and leaders, we must be aware of what we’re saying, who we’re saying it too, and how our words will echo second and third hand. Mindfulness of how our words will ripple through our team and business community is essential. I’m not advocating carefully choosing our words, since that can become artificial. I’m talking about genuine awareness.

We’re in a fish bowl as leaders, so remember:

  • Imagine how your words will sound when a comment or conversation is retold.
  • Develop an ability to be in a conversation and also looking at it from all angles.
  • Be definitive; your opinions are your reputation.
  • Your words can change someone’s life, and there are times you should set up touchpoints to do just that.
  • If your words are twisted or misunderstood, address this immediately.
  • Our touchpoints are powerful; they can build or break, inspire or deflate, create or destroy.

I regularly pull up to newbies on the race course to offer words of encouragement and hope I’ve helped influence someone to pursue an active lifestyle.

As a leader, words are your currency, spend them wisely.