There is one constant for every marathon runner-hitting the dreaded wall. The issue is never “if” but “when.” The “wall” is that moment when you are completely depleted of your resources but you are not yet finished. It usually occurs somewhere between mile 18 and 24. Hitting the wall is physical in nature-but it is even more mental at it’s core. The first time I “hit the wall” I described it as simply feeling like I had been at the shopping mall all day with my wife-and I just needed to sit down. Anywhere would do. Your mind is telling you that you were an idiot to think you could run a marathon. Some races even provide what is known as a “Sag Wagon” to entice you to end this misery early. It’s suppose to be a medical van to help the injured along the route-but anyone can call it quits and jump in. Obviously the temptation when hitting the wall is to simply quit. The key to hitting the wall is perseverance.
In leading, there are similar experiences. Hitting the wall in leading will usually come about when you have been at the role or the project for awhile. A certain amount of leading fatigue has already set in. And then an unexpected barrier arises. It could revolve around a difficult person on the team. It could include a new, seemingly insurmountable financial constraint. Or the business culture suddenly changes in an unanticipated way, forcing some difficult decisions. At that moment it is easy to settle for less or quit altogether-to stop short of your intended goal. The key is still perseverance.
In running, the best preparation for hitting the wall is to steadily increase your long run distance throughout the training period. This will build endurance and even allow you a taste of the wall while the true risk is nil. In leading, you must take advantage of similar principles. It is better to build your leadership responsibility over time. It’s never as glamorous, but your ultimate goal is to be leading well twenty years from now. Lead in small ways early so that you are better prepared to lead big later. Learn to wrestle with less significant barriers before you hit the ones that really matter. None of us are prepared for all that we will face in our leadership lives. But we can build our leadership muscles along the way. You need to exercise your leadership muscles in the context of community. Again, this is where mentors and teams are really helpful. They can help you persevere. They can keep you from settling for a rest at the mall.
I shared this verse yesterday, but it is appropriate again for this post. The Apostle Paul always had his eye on even a greater purpose when it came to his life and his leading. It is revealed in Philippians 3:14, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.