Cross training? Have a ball

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As athletes and managers we are bombarded with advice.

Runners should lift and lifters should run. Learn to deal better with difficult employees, hire the right team members every single time, and deal with a challenging boss. You must choose your cross training focus to match your primary goals to receive maximum benefits.

Enough! How about cross training as a journey of discovery and joy? What if you chose to do something different for…wait for it…fun?

The best exercise is the one you love to do, because it’s the one you’ll happily do time after time. Frankly, it might not be the one four out of five dentists prefer but if you love it you’ll live it.

Recently I’ve rediscovered the joy of tennis. After 20+ years off the court, it reentered my life like a comfort food from my youth. Everything about getting back on the court has been fun, from hitting the sweet spot on my cool new racquet to realizing that jumping for an overhead lob at the net ain’t as easy as it was when I was 15.

I’ve never seen the Tennis Training Plan for Triathletes or the “Get better at Crossfit on the Tennis Court” article, so am I wasting my time?

You tell me.

Triathlon challenges us to move forward while tennis introduces a world as vertical as it is horizontal. Yes, my ankles were killing me after the first day. Short bursts of energy vs. longer steady bouts. Precision, power, finesse, change of direction, anticipation, reaction, exhaustion.

It’s all good. The entire experience feeds my fitness, reignites my passion, and challenges me in new ways.

As leaders we have the ability to ignite fun for no particular reason. I remember a few years ago announcing a wear your favorite brown outfit day at work. Then, early that morning I went for a walk and encountered a lot of people decked out in brown. Each had a story behind their outfits.

One woman had last worn her outfit at a family member’s funeral and was happy to have an excuse to wear it for a happier occasion. We began speaking about the family member’s amazing life and through our brief discussion I learned so much about her. Some time later as I was challenged to put a small team together for a wellness initiative, I asked her to join the effort, and she flourished with the project.

In the case of a ‘brown day’ every single person who joins in is dying to tell a story. You’ve brought that to the surface by scheduling the event, so get out there and listen to the stories and connecting in a way you might not learn about tied to your computer during that next webinar.

When time is limited we must measure how we’re using it, and fun too often takes a back seat. Find those things you just flat out enjoy, or even think you might like, and cross train in a way that makes you smile.

Finish strong

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It all makes sense at the finish line.

The quest to cross a finish line has a life of its own. These are journeys of self-discovery, pain, joy, inspiration, defeat, and victory. When I cross a finish line everything falls into place. Exuberance, relief, pain and glory describe pieces of the feeling, but the emotional totality of crossing that line has yet to be accurately put into words.

I had slowed to a painful walk with three miles to go at my first Ironman Lake Placid, each excruciating step a reminder of the hours I hadn’t spent training. Mustering the energy to speed up to a half run took a courage and resolve I never knew I possessed.

With three miles to glory I summoned everything and jogged. The louder Mike Reilly’s voice got telling finishers they were Ironmen, the faster my legs were willing to carry me. I was drawn to the finish line like a strengthening magnet.

When I hit the Olympic Skating Oval, jam packed with hundreds of enthusiastic supporters cheering their faces off, I achieved a full stride run and finished with a flourish of high fives and a burst of energy I hadn’t felt all day.

It was miraculous, and over time I’ve come to realize that finish line is mine to tap into, forever.

How do you cross the finish line as a manager?

You may say every day ends at a finish line, or every challenge or deadline, but that’s too simplistic. Finish lines are special, never mundane. Their power lies in in a unique, deliberate struggle, one of your choosing.

As a leader, the most worthwhile finish lines are those you create. They should be limited to a doable number at any given time, written down, and mapped. Some should be personal, some involving a few people, and others involving your entire team or organization.

For example:

  • I’m getting my Master’s Degree.
  • My recruitment team and I are revamping the hiring process to make it faster and more efficient.
  • The entire management team is going for a top 10 finish in a Best Places to Work survey one year from now.

Each goal is doable, timetabled, measurable, and has a clear finish line at the end.

If you continue to raise the bar as you begin successfully crossing the finish lines you set for yourself and your team, success will become a way of life. And, make sure you always celebrate at the end, telling war stories and recounting lessons learned.

We’ll always have projects thrust upon us with deadlines and goals, but nothing is more valuable and satisfying than setting your own finish line, reaching it, then looking for another. You’ll find strength along the way you never knew you had.

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 Bike

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A bike, like your team, relies on vastly different moving parts to get you to your destination.

There’s always the unknown in cycling; flats, crashes, mechanical issues, aggressive drivers, dogs, squirrels, you name it, it’s out there waiting to ruin your ride.

Consider the bike itself; so many intricate and different components relying on each other and proper maintenance to perform like an orchestra. One wrong note and you’re sidelined.

Then, there’s the infamous squeak. How many times have you heard that odd sound coming from your bike and thought it might go away. Once you get used to it, your chain has eaten your derailleur.

It’s the same with teams.

Illness, performance issues, attitudes, divorce, personality clashes, you name it, it’s out there waiting to tear your team apart. And, there’s always that squeak, a nagging issue that goes from ripple to tsunami in an instant. Like rust on steroids, ignoring the small stuff eats away at your team.

Some things to consider:

  • Learn how your bike and team works. Ask your local bike shop mechanic if you can get a hands-on rundown of the major issues you might face on the road and how you would fix them. There are also plenty of videos and articles on the subject. As for your team, dissect it the same way. List your team members along with their strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. Assign your team members to a part of your bike and see where you’re loaded and lacking. Who is steady and strong but needs to be steered, like your wheels? Who can you lean on to help you lead, like your handlebars? Who drives the team from within and can adapt to changing inclines, like your chain ring? Who keeps you on track like your Garmin? Take a picture of your bike and place your team members appropriately alongside their part. You’ll see where you need help and where you’re strong.
  • Take care of your bike and team and you’ll be rewarded. Nothing works better than preventative maintenance. Check in with your people on a regular basis, reward their successes in meaningful, sincere ways and listen to their ideas and concerns. Take your bike in for regular check-ups, wash it regularly, and keep your chain clean.
  • Address the squeak immediately. Don’t let an issue grow out of control. Learn to recognize the early warning signals and respond immediately.
  • Replace parts and team members when necessary. A bad fit or defective part will throw everything and everyone out of whack. Spend your time leading, not fixing.
  • Let your team know how much you enjoy the ride. Your approval should be seen before it’s spoken.
  • Make certain you and everyone involved knows where you’re going and how you’re getting there. If you need to recalculate your direction, communicate.

If you’ve ever experienced that amazing ride or been part of an outstanding team, you know the unlimited potential of both; they will change your life and the world.

Who are you?

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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.