Last week I ran in my very first road race ever. For some reason, I waited until I was 44 years old to run my first 5K race. While my time of 25:03 was respectable for a “first run” (and no matter the result, it was going to be a personal record!), what struck me about the race experience was not the ending, but the middle.
My first race taught me how incredibly difficult it is pace myself. Wow! It was so tempting to forget all of my planning and start chasing and competing with everyone around me!
If you have a leadership position in your organization, you are tempted to “chase others” every single day.
And if you give into the temptation, you will likely lose. Have you ever noticed that? Just like running a race, when we abandon our planning (either personal or professional) we often get ourselves into trouble.
As for running, even though it was my first race, I had run 5K by myself before. Lots of times, actually. I had a good sense of what I was comfortable with and capable of, even before the race began. For me to average a 5:00/km pace, I needed to reach a specific corner at 7:30, 13:30, and 21:00 – if I was ahead of or behind those times, I would know that I was ahead of or behind the pace that I wanted to be at. But … once the race started and other people were running around me, it was incredibly difficult to not abandon my plan and chase another runner or match someone else’s pace! To do so, though, would have jeopardized the likelihood of me finishing the race at 25:00 (my goal as a beginning runner). I needed to stay focused on my running plan, regardless of what others were doing around me.
In terms of leadership, the same principle applies. If you are a good leader, you know what you are capable of and you know what is needed to lead your organization or project well. You have good self-awareness, good organizational awareness, and good mission-awareness. In the heat of the moment, though (or during the monotony of another work week), your challenge is to stay focused on your specific leadership plan. Do not be tempted to do what everyone else is doing, just because they are doing it! They don’t know your organizational leadership needs, but you do. They are not invested in your personal and professional success, but you are.
I remember a few years ago when I was leading an organization through a time of significant change. One of my priorities was to spend significant time connecting with and mentoring each of the key leaders in the organization, and I used a specific leadership book as part of the process. Later on, once the leadership team had grown in terms of both leadership health and ability, I found myself looking at various new books, resources, and speakers, as I wanted to get a good sense of what other effective leaders were doing. While there is often leadership benefit in being aware of external resources, in our particular context I came to realize that our leadership team did not need to look at others yet (in fact, I think it would have been a distraction for us) and I actually had us read the same leadership book all over again, as we needed to work on application. Here is the principle:
Even though you may be interested in exploring new leadership ideas and practices, you most often need to follow-through on the leadership plan you have already put in place.
Now of course, there are times when you and I need to adjust our leadership “on the fly”, and as good leaders, we are (hopefully) aware of when those occasions arise. But more often than not, we just need to stay true to the leadership path that we are already going down. Chasing the leadership ideas of others in midst of your own leadership race seldom works well. Have confidence in your leadership, stay disciplined, and finish well!