Posts Tagged ‘digging deep’


Thursday, June 10th, 2010

I run regularly.  Since my knees are deteriorating, I’m experimenting with new ways to reduce the shock to my joints.  I’ve learned that barefoot (flat-footed) running actually produces less impact than standard heel-toe running in athletic shoes.  I’ve been running for several weeks using a gentler, flat-footed style, and I’ve had some good results (less knee pain, building distance, increasing speed).  But this new style is incredibly uncomfortable, and I’m tempted to abandon it.

Each time I run I find myself tensing up my shoulders and hands.  I can’t relax, and it takes all my concentration just to keep my rebellious feet from going back to their old habits.  When my mind wanders, I slip back into a heel-toe rhythm, with damaging long-term effects (sore knees, fewer runs, knee surgery).

I have a couple of clients who are trying new moves in their leadership.  Those new moves are proving uncomfortable for them.  One is trying to be less controlling and give his team more freedom to choose priorities and solve problems on their own.  Another is trying to be more assertive, making necessary but unpopular decisions without consensus from all her team members.

Both of these leaders are in danger of slipping back into old, comfortable rhythms. The first is tempted to start digging into the details of his subordinates’ work, fearing they must be hiding important information.  The second is tempted to second-guess her decisions when she encounters the (predictable) opposition.  If they slip, their organizations will suffer.

What can we do to preserve our gains and keep moving forward?

Burn the Ships. When Cortez landed in Mexico, he burned (well, actually scuttled) his ships to ensure there was no way his men could back out of the plan to conquer the Aztecs.  With our leadership moves, however, “burning the ships” isn’t as tangible.  We need to find ways to make it more likely that we will make good choices, day after day.  Both of my clients have told their teams about their new moves, expressed their commitment, articulated the reasons why their old moves weren’t working, and asked to be held accountable.  Those actions require courage, and they create support systems that pull leaders forward when they are tempted to turn back.

Get Feedback. Without insights from someone who has gone before us down our new path (a mentor or role model), or someone who can help us get where we want to go (a coach), we’re on our own.  We can muddle through as rugged individualists, but that isn’t our only option.  Coaching is helping my clients run with better form.

Measure Results. I’ve been encouraging my clients’ team members to clarify for their leaders how those new behaviors are contributing to the organization’s success.  Clearly seeing the benefits of new moves helps leaders overcome the discomfort.

Run Faster. This one may seem counter-intuitive, but running more, and running faster, allows us to get through the discomfort quicker.  The more we practice our new moves, the more adept we become, and the more natural the behaviors feel.

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Disorganized Running

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

I run one or two half-marathons a year together with my buddy Dan Valliere from Chicago. In May, we ran the anti-Mini in Zionsville. This run is 90% dirt trails, 1% wood ramp, and 9% packed gravel. There are roots, uneven terrain, and creeks to navigate. Towards the end of the race, I asked Dan how he was doing, and he said he was getting “disorganized” in his running. I had never heard that phrase before, but I instantly knew what he meant.

Towards the end of a tough run, I get sloppy in my running style. I am not as deliberate about my foot placement, posture, and arm swing. My eyes aren’t as alert to my surroundings or the trail ahead, and sometimes one foot will hit the other as I stride forward.

When running a flat road course, this is a problem. But when running an off-road course, the stakes are higher. Tripping over a root and going sprawling into brush, sharp branches, or logs can detract from my enjoyment, and my accomplishment. And once a runner trips, it is hard to get back up and quickly find one’s stride again

Disorganized running is an analogy for sloppy leadership. We can get lax in our execution, and we risk falling on our faces. The risk is greatest when we’ve been running a long time, when we’re running too fast, or when we don’t know how far we are from the finish line.

So, how to keep it organized as a leader?

Darting eyes. A trail runner’s gaze is constantly shifting from the path one step in front to the path several steps away. This allows a runner to ensure good current foot placement, and to plan for the next steps.

Pace yourself. “You can’t sprint a marathon.” When possible, run consistently at a reasonable pace, such that you have enough energy to stay organized for the entire run. If a big challenge lays ahead, and you’ve been running too fast, slow down for a spell to catch your breath.

Re-energize. What’s your source of power when your energy flags? Prayer works for me.

Run with good runners. A group run is different than an individual run. Everyone assumes some responsibility for the performance of the team. Team members can notice when another’s running style starts to fall apart, can offer encouragement, and can pace each other. Just knowing that the team is counting on us can pull the best out of us.

Will. When the inevitable pains of running start to come to the forefront of your mind, they distract from the course and destination. Staying organized requires deliberate attention, in spite of distractions. Sometimes it just takes “gutting it out” to decide to finish strong, find that last reserve of strength, and “tighten up” until crossing the finish line.

Godspeed as you keep it organized.

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Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Professional soldiers have their own vocabulary, and it is frequently inscrutable to outsiders. “Winchester” means out of ammunition, or almost out of ammunition. The term comes from the single-shot lever action of a Winchester firearm. When down to the last rounds of ammo, soldiers may fire single shots to conserve what little they have.

Have you had a struggle when you thought you were winchester? With your endurance flagging and with nothing left to contribute to the fight, have you felt like you were out of options?

General A. A. Vandergrift, 18th Commandant of the Marine Corps, and Medal of Honor recipient, wrote that, “Positions are seldom lost because they have been destroyed, but almost invariably because the leader has decided in his own mind that the position cannot be held.”

One Marine illustrates this point particularly well. Major General Ray “E-Tool” Smith, USMC (retired) is a decorated combat veteran. Smith earned his unusual nickname in Vietnam: an “e-tool” is a small, foldable shovel, or “entrenching tool.” At one point, joined in close combat with enemy forces, when his firearm was no longer up to the task, he resorted to his e-tool as a weapon to dispatch an enemy soldier. To paraphrase MGen Smith, “Unlike a rifle, a shovel doesn’t jam.” Physically, Smith was Winchester. Mentally, he was not.

If you have decided that the fight cannot be won, it cannot. But Smith, whose courage in the face of likely far worse odds than you or I will ever face, found a way to keep fighting. Perhaps you are done and have no fight left.

Or perhaps there is an e-tool nearby that will do just fine.

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