Leadership is like running a marathon: Part III

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Running 26.2 Miles: Organizational Leadership

Running 26.2 miles is what a marathon is all about. Interaction between participants and organizers must occur to achieve the goal of running a marathon. Leadership through organizations occurs when organizational members interact to achieve organizational goals. There are three competencies under this heading: 1) implementing change, 2) organizational culture and 3) decision making. Implementing change refers to the ability to facilitate and lead change within the organization. Organizational culture is the understanding of organizational behavior and norms and how they impact organizational function. Decision making considers a leader’s ability to utilize appropriate organizational metrics for which to make decisions.

Marathon runners and leaders must implement and adapt change. The New York City Marathon is the largest marathon in the world based on the number of runners. When the starting gun went off at the last New York City Marathon, over 47,000 runners shuffled toward the starting line. With that many runners, it takes time (if you’re not in front) just to cross the starting line. Once that magic line has been crossed, the marathon race to the finish has begun. Rookies often make the mistake of starting too fast. The excitement at the start can even lure veteran runners into getting caught up in the excitement and start too fast. As the race progresses, some runners find it necessary to toss off excess clothing. It may also be necessary to adjust one’s pace. During a marathon, it is quite common for a runner to implement change in some way, be it strategy, attire, pace or dealing with some other unexpected occurrence. Change and adaptability are essential to running a marathon.

Like marathon runners, leaders and members of successful organizations need a positive attitude toward change. Change is the single most important element of successful business management today. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, successful organizations and organizational members have a positive attitude toward change. Organizations and individuals who embrace change, knowing if they are starting too fast or need to toss of excess clothing or alter their pace, remain competitive and grow. Our response to change, not change itself, determines our future. Resisters to change seek the status quo. Resisters eventually discover that by resisting change, they end up falling behind and following others, trying to catch up as they find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Implementing change means creating an environment that motivates organizational members to accept or embrace change. Anticipating and leading change is a safer course of action.

Marathon runners and leaders need to understand culture and norms of behavior. Like other marathons, the New York City Marathon has its own culture. The racecourse is lined with over 2 million spectators from start to finish who high-five runners and call out runners’ names (runners have their names displayed in some way) offering words of encouragement. It makes a total stranger a runner’s best friend if only for a few seconds. New York transforms itself into a friendly safe world of unity and kindness.

To understand organizational culture it is necessary to understand the shared basic assumptions of organizational members. Organizational culture captures the spirit and belief of an organization as demonstrated in the norms and values generally held by the way people believe they should behave and treat one another.

Marathon runners and leaders need to use appropriate metrics to make decisions. As each mile passes, a marathon runner must constantly be evaluating and assessing. A marathoner’s tools include a watch, mile markers, their stomach and legs. As mentioned previously, the start of a marathon can be very exciting, and a common mistake is starting too fast. This is a mistake that will take its toll later. A watch and mile marker provide the necessary feedback for a marathon runner to make decisions regarding pace. A marathoner’s stomach and legs also provide feedback for decision making. A marathon runner’s utilization of the proper tools at the proper time aides in decision making to implement a marathon plan in alignment with objectives and goals.

Similarly, leaders need to utilize the proper tools and metrics to make decisions. Standardized metrics and integrated decision making tools are essential to identify opportunities for improvement. In business, financial statements are basic tools providing leadership with metrics for decision making. Regardless of the metrics utilized, alignment with organizational members and goals is critical to the decision making process.


Leadership is like running a marathon regardless of there is a crisis or simply routine day-to-day activities. Marathon runners and leaders alike must have a foundation, an understanding of ethics and embrace continuous learning, the competencies categorized as Intra-Personal Leadership. Both marathon runners and leaders must be effective communicators and mentors, the competencies categorized as Inter-Personal Leadership. Finally, marathon runners and leaders need to be competent at implementing change, understanding organizational culture and decision making, those competencies categorized as Organizational Leadership. Leadership is like running a marathon. It requires preparation, courage, determination and motivation while continuing toward multiple finish lines, even though you may be exhausted and want to stop.

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