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.

Free yourself, success will follow

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I believe in a holistic approach to athleticism and management. For me, the power of the mind-body connection has been as undeniable as the effectiveness of a diverse training regimen.

Too often athletes and managers embrace a known comfort zone. They run and ride the same route, hold the same meetings with agendas updated from last week, go through the same gym routine with the same weights, handle the same disciplinary issues again and again until a policy is developed to formalize their now mundane response.

If this is you, you’re losing fitness, effectiveness, and your mind is becoming stale.

Now wait George, I work hard and my mind’s engaged. That workout I do after work keeps me in shape and helps me unwind. I’m on the go all day long and hardly have enough hours to get everything done.

I’d be more impressed if I didn’t have higher expectations for you. Others can be mediocre or good, you can be great.

Never mistake activity for productivity.

So, here’s the secret; it’s the difference between a To Do list and measuring your progress. A To Do list is a treadmill that keeps turning…forever; items on the list, off the list, on, off…Measurements graph our progress on our journey from good to great, motivating us to keep going, change our course, and respond to challenges.

A few great measures are:

  • Use your favorite ride or run course as a test once a month. Perhaps you want to see if you can go faster within the same distance, or maybe you want to go a mile more. Document your progress so you can see how you’re doing and make plans to keep improving.
  • Invest in an employee satisfaction survey, or enter your workplace in a Best Places to Work competition, find the sample questionnaire and make sure you’re hitting all the bases. Measuring employee satisfaction makes it a business priority.
  • Explore new approaches to your athletic and professional life. Take risks and get outside of your comfort zone by venturing into the weight room, volunteering to chair a task force, or hiring a coach to take a look at your form. Commit to one outside-the-box effort a month, then make it a way of life.

Our minds and bodies adapt to routines, which is why we must change things up regularly. Remember, stale is stale, whether it feels like hard work or not. You’re capable of so much more.

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.

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.