Leadership and the Boston Marathon

I just completed my third Boston Marathon. It is truly an awesome race. There is no way the fans can be any better than in Boston. From beginning to end people cheer you on and offer any help they can. But the course is daunting and after three tries I feel like I am just beginning to figure it out.

It was my eighth marathon overall and over the years I have reflected often on the parallels between the Christian life and long distance running. Several of the biblical writers did also (Paul in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 12:1-2). I also believe there are several parallels for the life of a leader–and over the next few days I want to share some of those thoughts.

Today let’s start by noting that a marathon takes preparation. It is foolish to just wake up on race day and decide to run. I recently heard of a guy who did just that–he lost eight toe nails and could not walk for days.

There are really three types of preparation for a marathon–and all three are necessary. There is the 16-18 week running preparation for the actual race itself. There is also the need to run some shorter races to be prepared for race conditions and a race atmosphere. Shorter races also help you determine your own race capacity and help you monitor your level of development (or lack there of) for a marathon. And there is making sure that you have prepared by having the right equipment–it is not wise to run in Bermuda shorts and flip flops. The right equipment can make a huge difference in beginning and actually finishing a marathon.

Leadership is similar. The Scriptures teach us that “he who is faithful in little will be faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). In other words our leadership muscles are built on smaller tasks–with others watching over us, helping us to take next steps. We grow into leadership–not just leap into it. Also, there is the specific preparation for larger, more complex leadership endeavors. They may require specialized training, seeking out outside expertise, faith risk, and the gathering of more resources. A wise leader looks ahead and makes preparation for what lies ahead. For the Boston Marathon you better be aware that the first 16 miles are net down hill–and then you hit the Newton hills–seven inclines ending with Heartbreak Hill. Most first time runners quietly destroy their quad muscles in the first 16 miles by going out too fast and then have nothing left for the Newton hills. The race is over for many right at mile 21. The difference is in the mental and physical preparation.

The lesson? Do you aspire to lead? Look for the small, less desirable opportunities first. Be found faithful there–and let others ask you to step up to greater responsibility. Look ahead and make solid preparation for whatever God has asked you to do. Find mentors who have led and are a step ahead of you in leading and life. Train–because leading is a long distance event too.

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