Today I am beginning a five part series on how leadership and running a marathon share several of the same principles. To date, I have run ten marathons. That does not make me an expert. But it does give me enough experience to suggest some parallels worth considering. Over the next five days we will look at Preparation, The Start, The Proper Perspective, Hitting The Wall, and Making It To The Finish Line. Today I will focus on the Preparation stage.
Preparation is everything in desiring to complete a marathon. You can’t just wish your way to the finish line. You have to engage in a routine that will prepare your body and mind for the whole 26.2 miles. Most marathon trainings are between 16 and 18 weeks in length and include speed work, cross training, and distance running. One regimen alone will not ensure a good race. Let me say quickly too that equipment matters-a lot. It’s critical that you purchase running shoes to match your body and running style. It’s important that you wear the right clothing on race day. And you have to train your mind for both the known and the unexpected to make it to the end. Consistent running requires some learned skills. It helps greatly to know what a good stride looks like so that you can run efficiently and effectively.
Some people are more gifted runners. They are better overall athletes. I once stood at the starting line with a 72 year old man who was running his 54th marathon. That simply takes a certain kind of body to endure all those miles for so many years. But even the most gifted must train well to tap all of the potential that is within them.
The greatest temptation in marathon training is to cut corners. The truly gifted are the most susceptible. Early on you will want to run only three days a week or shorten your long runs by a few miles. Your legs are going to hurt. The key is faithfulness. You need to follow a designed training program that values balance and your experience level. It helps to do those once a week long runs with a friend. A 16 mile training run can get pretty boring by week nine.
As a leader it helps to know who you are. An assessment of your gifts, abilities and natural leadership acumen can be helpful in having your maximum impact. In leading, you mainly learn by doing with feedback. There are no shortcuts in leadership preparation. Again, the naturally gifted leader will be tempted to short circuit the process. Learning to be a good leader requires preparation. Look for opportunities to lead. It is best if the initial opportunities are small in nature and scope. This is where you see if others also believe you can lead. If people are recognizing your leadership abilities then determine to design a plan. Read a lot, ask for regular feedback, seek out a mentor, and be wary of proclaimed success. Expect to fail. You can learn far more from your failures than your successes. Create your own emerging leader cohort. Like marathon training it makes sense to learn to lead in community with others. Take advantage of formal leadership training-take advantage of informal leadership trying. Actually, you are never fully prepared for the next leadership setting or situation. Leadership preparation is a lifelong process. You need to take a marathon perspective on leading. Again, faithfulness is the key. Stay faithful to the leadership responsibilities you have now. Don’t always be looking to the next opportunity. Faithfulness will help to build character and character is what will help you make it to the end. There are no short cuts to character. Every marathon I have ever ran ultimately took it’s toll on some would be finishers. We all know of spiritual leaders who did not finish well.
The Apostle Paul communicated a powerful perspective when he compared the Christian life to running in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.