This is the third in a series comparing marathon running to leadership. 26.2 miles is a long way to run. The first time I ran a marathon I thought it would never end. As I prepared for my second one I decided I needed some perspective. I needed to think of the race in different terms than I had the first time. To simply look at the whole was too daunting.
I came across an article that was incredibly helpful in sizing up the task. The author exhorted every runner to break down a marathon into three 10’s. There is the first 10 miles, the second 10 miles, and the final 10 kilometers. The best I had ever done before was to look at it as two halves. You are forced to think this way because the organizers clearly mark the midway point. But for me, to simply break the race in half still left too much to consider. To break it into manageable thirds was ideal. The author of the article even went on to describe how you should think through each third. During the first 10 miles he suggested that you set your desired pace and enjoy yourself. Look around you. Take in the sights. Strike up a conversation with your fellow runners. During the second 10 miles you should begin to run more seriously. Take inventory of how your mind and body are responding. Be sure you are taking in enough nourishment during this phase. Focus. During the final 10 kilometers he suggested that you need to bear down and persevere. The final 10K is only 6.2 miles-but it is typically the hardest 6.2 miles. This is the section where you are going to “hit the wall” and wonder if you have enough to finish. This is where you have to draw upon inner resources to complete the race. It is “mind over matter” at this point. You remind yourself of all the training you have done. You look ahead to how satisfied you will be when you cross the finish line and accomplish a major life goal. You maintain perspective.
Merriam-Webster defines “perspective” as the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. Leaders also need to be able to break down their task or objectives into smaller, right sized proportions. I have often said that if you are leading something that is simple then you are not leading anything of significance. In other words, if you are leading something significant then it will necessarily be complex, and therefore has the potential to overwhelm you. Many times we are overwhelmed because seeing the whole is too much-it is too daunting. We have to gain perspective. We have to take the ultimate goal and break it down into manageable, right sized goals. We measure progress along the way and not just against the desired end. In the midst of leadership challenges and struggles we must remind ourselves why we took on this role-why we thought it was important and worthy of our lives. We have to look ahead at the satisfaction we will experience from having accomplished our ultimate goal. In a similar way, I would also suggest some different thought processes along the way. Usually, any new leadership endeavor carries some freshness in the early stages. Enjoy it. Enjoy the challenge and the early successes. As you near the middle, you will have to focus in a more determined way. You will become aware of many more obstacles that were not obvious at the beginning. The key here is not to get sidetracked by unimportant disctractions-keep your eye on the goal. Towards the end you may simply have to bear down and persevere. This is when it really helps to be leading with others in a team environment for mutual encouragement and strength. Leaders must build the capacity to see things in their right relations and relative importance.
The Apostle Paul maintained a clear life perspective that I believe allowed him to lead well: Philippians 3:14-15 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
Running a marathon is an endurance test. Often, leading is too. And perspective can make all the difference. Lead well.