Leadership is like training for a marathon

Leadership is like training for a marathon

Last week I introduced the metaphor leadership is like running a marathon. In an attempt to provide a better understanding of leadership, I like to break it down into three categories: 1) INTRA-Personal Leadership, 2) INTER-Personal Leadership and 3) Organizational Leadership. Last week I posted how INTRA-Personal Leadership was like training for a marathon. This week I’m continuing the metaphor by discussing how INTER-Personal Leadership is like the starting line of a marathon.

The Starting Line: INTER-Personal Leadership

The starting line of a marathon is a place where all runners gather to begin the marathon. INTER-Personal Leadership is the interaction that takes place between individuals which is where the process of leading others begins. Just like jockeying for position amongst the other runners at the starting line, this aspect of leadership is all about interacting with others. You can’t run a marathon by yourself; that would just be a long run. Neither is leadership a solitary “long run” that occurs in a vacuum. Both require more than one person, both involve other people. Effective communication includes interactions with individuals both internal and external to the organization as a means to establish and maintain cooperative relationships. Mentoring is the creation of trusting relationships that improve performance toward agreed upon objectives.

Running a marathon and leadership both require effective communication. For example, the last New York City Marathon had over 47,000 runners. As you can imagine, organizing over 47,000 people from around the world to be in the same place at the same time is a daunting task. Effective communication that overcomes numerous cultural and language barriers is critical. This is accomplished utilizing multiple communication channels including written instructions, signage, color-coding, audio announcements, large screen monitors with captions and volunteers in special uniforms. Runners wear shirts, shorts, race bibs and/or hats that often display a symbol to indicate his or her respective country and the runner’s name. This variety of communication channels makes getting to the starting line with 47,000 other people a breeze!

Leadership and communication are inseparable. In fact, a strong argument can be made that communication is THE critical component of leadership. Every person’s identity, every organization’s identity is the result of interacting with others. Leadership communication is the interaction of leadership with internal and external constituents and building relationships. Effective leadership overcomes communication barriers utilizing a variety of appropriate communication channels. An ineffective communicator is an ineffective leader, and conversely, an effective leader IS an effective communicator.

When running a marathon, a mentor or coach can improve performance. When practicing leadership, a mentor or coach can improve performance. For a runner to have the courage to step up to the starting line requires courage instilled through a mentor or coach. Rookie marathoners look to veterans for guidance, not just in the training, but also at the race. Some marathons provide pace leaders runners can follow to achieve a specific running time goal. For example, if a runner wants to average 10 minute miles, there will be a runner holding a sign for 10 minute mile pace runners to follow. If you stay with the pace leader, you achieve your goal!

Mentoring others in the workplace can be a tremendous experience for all involved. For a member of the organization to have the courage to try something new may require courage instilled by a mentor or coach. Newer members of the organization often look to veteran members for guidance. Proactive communication strategies applied to mentoring can be a very powerful and effective mentoring process. While holding up a sign with a stated goal may work at a marathon, it might not be accepted within an organizational setting. That being said, making it clear that you are willing to coach or mentor others within the organization is an important aspect of leadership. A mentoring relationship contributes to success for both the mentor and the mentee. Competent leaders and marathoners are competent mentors.

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