Half-Marathon Leadership Lessons: Perseverance & Push

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On Sunday, January 24 at 9:18 a.m., I was dragging myself across the race finish line. Technically, I was running. However, I believe most people could have walked faster than I was running at that point.

At the end of a 13.1 mile half-marathon my energy tank was empty. The first 8 miles of the race was probably the best run of my life! I was in the groove. Adrenaline provided a nice runners high. However, my run began to change between miles 8 and 10. The race guide prepared us for a ‘slight uphill climb’ but it felt significantly slight and my runners high quickly disappeared. By mile 10 my body began telling me to stop.  By mile 11 it was yelling at me to stop. At mile 12 it was screaming! Somehow, the last 1.1 miles felt longer than the first 8 and it required concentrated mental effort to keep my body parts moving.

But I finished! In fact, I even set a personal best time.

I am not telling you this story for self-glorification (if you look up my race results, you will see that they were nothing to brag about!). Rather, life experiences, like running a half-marathon, often provide great insights into leadership and success. In today’s blog I want to share four lessons that I learned as I traversed 13.1 miles.

  1. Leadership will empty your tank. As we begin new jobs, new projects or a new life, we often begin with something akin to a runners high. Like my first 8 miles, it begins pretty well. Until you hit that unexpected uphill stretch. That unproductive employee. The micro-managing boss. At some point, your natural energy will subside and you will need to dig deep. You have untapped reserves but until you push yourself, often one mile at a time, you will not realize or experience the depths of those reserves.
  2. Leadership takes practice. In preparation for this race, I have run many miles. You cannot jump onto the start line and expect to succeed without preparation. Effective leaders grow into their roles. They don’t begin with half-marathons. Place yourself in leadership situations that allow you to run a bit longer than last time as you practice and develop your leadership endurance.
  3. Leaders push boundaries. Sometimes, these boundaries will be pushed by others. The idea to run my first half-marathon was not my own. A few years ago my wife decided it was a great New Years Resolution (yes, she set my New Years Resolution!). I would not have run this race apart from her willingness to push my boundaries. Sometimes, the push must be generated from within yourself. My progress from mile 10 to mile 11, to mile 12, and to mile 13.1 required me to push my running capacity harder than I ever have. My body told me to stop. My mind was encouraging me to stop. Sometimes, the only way leaders finish is because they are willing to push boundaries.
  4. Your leadership environment matters. In fact, it your environment matters a lot! We need to be surrounded by good people to help us be our best. They help us on the days we don’t feel up to the task. Race training is something my wife and I do together. We have discovered that the encouragement and accountability of running with each other makes a huge difference. It motivates us to keep going on the days we just don’t care. I can think of these kinds of people over my career as well. They encourage us to be a better person and to finish what we start, especially during the times when we feel like we are out of gas at mile 12!

My half-marathon experience helps me understand leadership a little bit better. You have your own metaphor that helps you understand leadership in deeper ways. So what’s your metaphor?


Head ShotJeff Suderman is an amateur jogger, futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com

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