I consider myself to be an amateur runner, albeit you will never see an Olympic medal hanging around my neck. Usain Bolt has nothing to worry about. Running for me is about more than the torture it brings to my body. It is about going where the road takes me, very often into unknown territory.
My running buddy and I rarely go to the same park or trail on consecutive runs. We love to find a trail and just take off, usually without even checking the trail map to see where it goes. I must confess that, on more than one occasion, this has turned out to be a less-than-brilliant idea. We have gotten lost, gone farther than we anticipated, and been caught in hopeless circles. So many times, organizations and their leadership teams resemble my haphazard running strategy.
How many times have you seen organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, running at full speed with all the vigor they can muster but have no idea where they are headed?
The problem with running without a map is that we cannot know when we have achieved our goal and when to celebrate the victory. In his book, Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, pastor and author Andy Stanley reminds the reader that it is critical for any organization to take the time to celebrate the win.
But, how do we know if we have scored a run, made a goal, scored a touchdown, or made a basket? How do we know if we have crossed the finish line at all, much less know if we made our personal best time? Strategic leadership begins with the end in mind.
Leadership requires vision beyond what you can see at the start.
Running with Vision
One of my favorite runs here in the Atlanta area is the US 10 K Classic, run every Labor Day. Besides being quite hilly, it is 6.2 miles straight down one major road. You start at Point A and run to the finish line at Point B. Now, unless you have supernatural vision, you cannot see the finish from the start, so you just start running with the hopes that someone has gone before you and marked the finish line. But who is “that someone?” Who does every follower rely upon to make it to a known ending point?
That someone is the strategic leader with a vision.
You, as the leader that you are destined to be must go ahead of the group, lay out the path, see the finish line, and clearly mark the way for the rest of the team to follow. Then, and only then, can individual team members recognize the end of their toils and labors and can celebrate the victory of a job well done.
Personally, I’ve been in too many organizations where a finish line is established or a score is identified, only to have the target move in the middle of the process. Imagine if, after a race has begun, the race organizer decided to move the finish line out another mile.
How unimaginable would that be?
Yet, in business, that very thing happens almost daily.
- Production quotas change
- Job performance evaluations change
- Job descriptions change
- Company strategies change
No wonder so many people are burned out and frustrated. If we want to see employee engagement soar, help your team to see the finish line through your vision, lead them to that line, and celebrate the win.
My running partner often reminds me of an informal slogan from the U.S. Marines. When I start lagging behind, my partner will slow down with me.
He simply says, “No Marine left behind.”
We start the run together and we finish the run together. Usually, this will be the incentive I need to press on and to pick up my pace. Great leaders will set the pace but will adjust that pace as necessary to not leave anyone behind.
A team that runs together celebrates together.
Whether your leadership assignment looks like a one-mile fun run or a full marathon, set your mind on the finish line, rally your team to run alongside you, and run with everything you have in you. And, oh, don’t forget to enjoy the journey along the way.
How are you doing at setting the vision, the journey, and the pace for your team. How are you handling the bumps, twists, turns, curves, detours, and changes that happen along the way? What are you doing to check your performance as you take others on a journey toward something greater than themselves? I would love to hear your thought!
Steve Quinn, President and Consultant with Vital Leadership Consulting, is searching for new clients/opportunities for leadership development, employee engagement, and training facilitation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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