What Marathon Running Taught Me About Being a Manager
With last week's Boston Marathon still fresh in the minds of runners and sports enthusiasts everywhere, I thought it would be a good week to compare the discipline and rigor of marathon running with the steadfastness and level of effort needed to be great manager.
Let's first consider what's required to properly train to run a marathon. You must:
Make the decision that you would one day like to run a marathon (we'll call this long term vision)
You must have a personal fortitude to say to yourself 'Yes, I can do this'
Do the needed research to learn how to safely and efficiently train for the event
Develop a long term training plan based on your research (six months to a year based on your starting level of physical ability and running background)
Define benchmarks (how fast you run) and milestones (how long you run) that are sprinkled throughout your training plan
Buying the right equipment based on your research and the advice of specialists (getting the right shoes, etc.)
Learn about topics that will maximize your chance of success, such as proper nutrition, proper hydration, and cross training
You must commit to properly execute your plan (this may mean getting up early on Sunday morning to run after a late dinner with friends the night before)
Dealing with obstacles like bad weather and injuries
Your must properly prioritize your life in a way that allows you to meet your goal of running 26.2 miles in a reasonable time, without ignoring other important priorities (your job) and your stakeholders (your spouse, family members, and friends)
During the training stage, you must compare your planned training to actual performance
You must be willing to modify your plan and/or goals based on actual performance
Lastly, on the day of the race, (or in my case, a long slow run) be willing to do the right things based on your planning, preparation, and common sense.
Now let's talk about management.
You must develop a long term strategy for your department to be sure it is moving in a direction that will best fit your company's short and long term goals
You must believe in yourself, believe in your team, and inspire those working for you to follow your vision
Do the needed research to learn how to convert your vision into the appropriate short term tactics and long term plan needed to realize your vision
Develop a business plan based your research
Include benchmarks, false deadlines, milestones in your plan to help maintain momentum and measure your progress
Get the best tools possible (based on budget of course) needed for your team to do the job in the best and safest possible way (software programs, machinery, testing tools, protective wear, etc.)
Learn about topics that are important, but ancillary, to your primary task, such as industry trends, current economic conditions, company sales forecasts
Show your personal commitment and insist on your team's commitment to properly execute the plan, even when it sometimes gets tough
Dealing with obstacles like employee turnover, tight annual budgets, conflicting priorities, and other business issues
Work with your manager and others to define the appropriate business priorities in a way that helps you meet your goals as well as your department's commitments to others
Continually compare your plan to your actual progress in regard to budget, project milestones, and other Key Success Factors (KSFs)
Be willing to modify your plans if business necessities arise
On a day-to-day basis, be willing to do the right thing for your customers, your company, your team members, and yourself.
The moral of this comparison isn't that you should run a marathon, even though it is an incredible experience and accomplishment. The moral is that being a great manager requires personal commitment, the strength of character to do the right thing even if it's hard, the willingness to do your homework before making difficult decisions, the ability to plan ahead, and have the steadfastness to follow through on your plans toward their desired result.
The primary advice and takeaways from today's column is to know that:
Like running a marathon, being a great manager requires personal strength, personal character, hard work, commitment, vision, planning, and proper preparation.
This blog is an excerpt from my weekly nationally syndicated column with GateHouse News Service. My new columns can be found in GateHouse Media publications throughout the United States.
Until next time, manage well, manage smart, and continue to grow.