Bilocation

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Great managers and athletes must be in two places at one time.

As athletes and leaders we must simultaneously do what we do while gauging how we’re doing and what’s happening around us.

As a manager you must always be in and above a conversation, aware of its direction and purpose.

I’ve seen managers miss the entire point of an encounter with an employee because they merely dealt with a conversation’s face value. Is a question about who’s on the schedule really a request for time off? What does dissatisfaction sound like? How about outright rage masked as contentment? As leaders we’re challenged with deciphering sophisticated human communication codes all the time.

One key to success is to slow down when speaking with people. Let conversations be tiny oases in your day. Give them time and focus. If you’re not present during a conversation, especially a quick one, you risk sending the wrong message.

I once spoke with a person who had asked her manager how difficult it might be for anyone to get time off during a particularly busy period. Instead of asking if there was something specific behind her question, the manager went on and on about how it’s got to be all hands on deck with everyone pitching in during this critical time. The manager had no idea the woman was dealing with an issue that would have given her protected time off through FMLA to care for her sick husband. The woman left the conversation fearing she’d have to choose between her husband and her job.

As athletes we too must see the big and small picture. We need to see the road under us while gauging our body’s fuel reserves, maintain great form while rationing precious energy. I’ve completed seven Ironman Lake Placid events and each time I’ve gone out too hard on the first 56-mile bike loop. The check I write for that ride depletes my account for what ends up being a much-harder-than-necessary run.

I’m totally in the moment, but failing to plan for the big picture.

Some tips for training these abilities include:

  • Map a definitive race plan for your next training or racing day. If you traditionally go out of the box fast, ease up a little and consciously save some for a stronger finish. Change your tendencies regularly, don’t be predictable.
  • Role play with a colleague. Have them approach you with a hidden agenda, and ask three questions before you guess their goal. Keep going in sets of three until you get it right. Each time you do this, try and dissect the agenda in fewer questions. Measure your success.
  • For a week recognize when you’re in the moment and when you’re above it. Make note of this consciously and these places will become more comfortable for you.
  • Always think about digging deeper, especially during that quick conversation with someone or a seemingly mundane Wednesday evening run. These opportunities rarely advertise themselves’ it’s up to us to recognize and capitalize on them.

Being present in and above the moment are different skills, both essential to your success.

The 24-hour Rule

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Sometimes you flat-out lose.

Losing is becoming a lost art as our culture bends to meet the needs of the masses. But, every now and then in our trophies-for-everyone society, losing busts out big time.

We must be prepared.

As a manager, finding ourselves in a win\lose situation can be dangerously frequent. We tend to want to work with our employees and coworkers rather than against them, seeking common ground and shared outcomes. We can’t always collaborate, though, and that produces winners and losers.

As managers we often lose when we win because we have the power and are expected to get our way. Even in winning we lose something.

So when we find ourselves on the losing end, what then?

Enter the 24-hour rule.

For almost our entire 10-year marriage, my wife lived life with metastatic breast cancer. For that decade we faced a roller coaster life. Early on, bad news came fast and furious, flooding us with desperate moments of disbelief. Our emotions swirled like a tornado on steroids, but decisions and plans needed to be made. Life had to be lived.

Lisa first put it out there for consideration; when bad news presented itself, we were allowed 24 hours to live in the blackness of despair. We had permission to dive deep, wring our hands, get pissed off, drink, and carry on in hopelessness. In fact, there was an expectation that we would do just that.

Twenty-four hours later, it was over. Cue life.

The next phase of the process is called Living in the New Normal. It was time to get on with things and proceed down our path.

We got very good at this. The 24 hours became more brief as time went on, but there was always time spent venting before coming to grips with the New Normal.

This process has served me well since my wife’s death. Whenever I’ve been faced with a loss and rekindled the 24-hour rule I’ve found it much easier to learn from what just happened and put things into perspective for the inevitable New Normal.

When we lose we learn. We must always acknowledge the sadness behind a loss, embrace it and make it our own. Then, with new perspective and knowledge, it’s time to move on to the New Normal where we can live to fight again.

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.

Make fear work for you

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When you last felt fear did you use the opportunity to put it to work for you?

Fear is universal and touches each of us. At least it should, because if you’re not feeling fear on a regular basis you’re not taking any chances. Real progress happens outside our comfort zone and it’s natural, even expected, to ride that wave alongside fear.

My work environment is full of change at all levels and in every crevice of my organization. This has resulted in huge doses of fear and hope, which will battle each other if not handled properly.

Times like these expose true leaders who know fear means that something is about to happen and if you don’t turn into the wave, you’ll capsize.

Leaders use fear as a motivator to fuel a mission, describing a vision and that it will take every ounce of everyone’s effort to realize the dream.

Two years ago I entered an Xterra off road triathlon. Once on my mountain bike I knew I was in unfamiliar territory, having never done as difficult a course. There were huge rock gardens (long stretches of sharp-edged rocks) to ride over at blistering speeds. Giving into fear at that moment would have tensed my body and distracted my mind, resulting for sure in a crash.

Instead, I used the opportunity to concentrate on my breathing and melted into my bike, trusting it would work with me to conquer this challenging course.

I went with it, not against it.

Early on the course, I felt a tremendous rush of adrenaline, waking the butterflies in my stomach to an excited, anticipatory state. I began to look forward to the next rock garden.

I confronted fear, tamed it, and put it to better use.

It’s a proud moment when we realize the inevitable change we’re experiencing can be directed by us with hard work and focus.

I worked at United Way during its fundraising heyday, then in an instant the bottom fell out. The top UW exec, leader of our national organization, went down for embezzling money. In an instant, our team’s instinct was to fall back, retreat, clam up, no comment, oh no!

Then we met and talked it out, eventually coming to the conclusion we needed to be overly proactive, transparent, and honest.

  • We were outraged just like everyone else.
  • We held back our own UW’s dues to the national organization until they cleaned house.
  • We opened our books for all to see that our fundraised dollars were in fact going exactly where we said they were going.
  • And, we leaned on the organizations and individuals we had helped over the years to continue to tell our story.

The fallout was bad, but not as bad as it might have been had we cowered in fear and attempted to hide under the radar. It took vision, courage, and the conversion of fear to action. Instead of waiting for the phone calls, we made them. We wrote the letters, scheduled the meetings, and put ourselves out there. Attack versus retreat.

Decide to seek out situations that instill a healthy dose of fear in you. Train yourself to recognize fear, embrace the uncertainty it brings, and convert it to a type of energy and emotion that takes you to a new place.

Consciously work with fear, and not against it, so when it surprises you you’ll be prepared to cross the rock garden fast and unscathed.

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.