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5 lessons leaders can learn from marathon running

I am incredibly passionate about sport and fitness and that passion tends to spread when I share my experiences and enthusiasm with others. I enjoy how sport and fitness can influence people in a positive way and I see this a lot when people join me for a run – sharing the feeling of achieving something with someone else inspires me. As leaders, if we have a similar passion for our work, it too can be contagious. In the world of leadership, inspiration and valuable insights can be gathered from the most unexpected sources and marathon running, where determination, discipline and teamwork intertwine to create extraordinary achievements, is a key example.

Last month the ING Marathon, one of the most popular events in Luxembourg, took place as thousands of runners and spectators came together to celebrate the occasion. Fortunately, at the same time, I was on a business trip in Luxembourg and had the opportunity to meet some of the runners – many of whom ran as part of a team that was organised and sponsored by their organisations. As they shared their inspiring stories of running alongside work colleagues, it became evident to me that the parallels between leadership and running extended far beyond the finish line.

Marathon runners

Here are some examples of the lessons in leadership that I heard and resonated with me during those conversations:

1.     Setting and Pursuing Ambitious Goals:

Marathon runners exemplify the essence of setting and pursuing ambitious goals. These high-level athletes embark on a rigorous training regime, meticulously crafting their strategies and dedicating countless hours to planning and preparation. Similarly, effective leaders are visionaries who set bold goals for themselves and their teams. They possess the ability to inspire and mobilize others towards a common objective, fostering a shared sense of purpose and direction.

2.     Resilience in the Face of Adversity:

Running a marathon is the true test of resilience. The grueling distance, physical exhaustion and mental challenges demand unwavering perseverance. Marathon runners encounter obstacles throughout the race, but it is their ability to adapt, push through pain barriers and remain focused on the goal that sets them apart. Likewise, leaders face adversity and setbacks on their journey, but it is their resilience that enables them to navigate uncertainty, learn from failures and emerge sometimes stronger than before.

3.     Embracing Teamwork and Collaboration:

Although marathons are individual races, the power of teamwork and collaboration is ever-present. In many cases, runners form groups or join teams to support and motivate each other during training and on race days. They share strategies, encouragement and experiences, fueling each other’s motivation. Similarly, effective leaders understand the value of collaboration and foster a culture of teamwork within their organisations. True leaders encourage open communication, leverage diverse perspectives and create an environment where individuals can thrive collectively.

Nina running with a friend

4.     Leading by Example:

Marathon runners inspire others not only through their words but also through leading by example. They demonstrate discipline, dedication and determination through their training and race-day performances. Leaders, too, must lead by example by embodying the values and behaviors they wish to see in their teams. When leaders consistently model the qualities they expect from others, they inspire and motivate their team members to reach their full potential.

5.     Celebrating Milestones and Progress:

In marathon running, celebrating milestones is crucial for maintaining motivation and sustaining momentum. Runners often acknowledge their progress at various points during the race, drawing inspiration from each milestone they conquer. Similarly, effective leaders understand the importance of celebrating achievements and milestones with their teams. By recognizing individual and collective progress, leaders foster a positive and supportive environment, fueling a sense of accomplishment and encouraging continued growth.

Running a marathon and leading a team share many significant similarities and by embracing these lessons from the world of running, leaders can inspire and empower their teams to conquer challenges, reach new heights and cross the finish line of success together. So, let us lace up our metaphorical running shoes and embark on the journey of leadership, running the extra mile toward greatness.

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