There really is nothing quite like the feeling of finishing a marathon. Once you cross the finish line, if you are still standing and able to walk, the organizers wrap you in mylar to keep you warm and present you with a finisher’s medal. You grab your sports drink and some fruit and try and take in all that has just happened. There is a deep sense of accomplishment. There is the realization that what you have been training for over the past four months has finally come to fruition. There is a sense of relief. You have done what a very small percentage of the people in the world have ever done. Initially, there is a very real moment of private celebration-hopefully followed by some public acknowledgement from your friends. Now you are ready to sign up for the next one. But it is actually a time of rest, recovery and reflection. When I ran my first Boston Marathon I was not warned about the first 16 miles being net down hill-right before you start a five mile climb through the Newton hills. Because I had not trained myself with down hill runs I had nothing for Heartbreak Hill. Before I ran the next Boston I made sure there were plenty of downhill training runs in my regimen. You have to learn from your first race to prepare well for the next.
All of this has bearing on our leadership lives. Leading must also include some completion points. There needs to be seasons where the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction are poignant. Leadership must include celebration points along the way. If not, the grind of leading can ultimately cause you to burn out. The problem in leading is that good leaders are always leading on more than one front. Therefore, there is always one more mile to run. So you never stop and take time to celebrate. That is detrimental to you and your followers. Good learning rarely takes place apart from celebration and reflection. If you simply keep moving on you will surely keep leading in the say way you always have. You see “to finish” can have some nuanced meanings. It can mean “to come to and end”-but it can also mean “to come to completion.” I know these sound very much the same. But, “to end” something is simply to cease from activity. To bring something “to completion” carries a more rounded sense of wholeness. To bring something to completion in leading is to purposefully see a finish line, to acknowledge the contribution of others, to celebrate, to learn, and to plan again from a greater sense of experience and maturity. Few people want to follow a leader that has no finish line. They also don’t want to follow a leader who doesn’t take them on a worthwhile journey. So keep leading-but build in some quality finish lines for yourself and those you lead.
If you follow the Apostle Paul’s three missionary journeys in the book of Acts in the Bible you will notice that each had a necessary finish line. You will also notice that each one was different because of his ongoing learning through leading. Lead well-finish well!