By Business Growth Coach and Extreme Sportsman, Daniel Owen-Parr
Hands up. Who has had a boss, or colleague, who turns up at the office smelling of chlorine, wrapped in Lycra, or who looks forward to running home the long way? I am sure most of you have come across someone like this. Over the last twenty years, this has become more and more prevalent. At the same time, this behaviour mirrors the explosion in endurance
based sports. 10km runs are no longer a challenge and a simple marathon is more about raising money for charity than pushing your limits. Every weekend across the UK, people are either running across mountain ranges, cycling 100 miles, or swimming in a cold lake without a wetsuit on. What does this have to do with business? An excellent question and one I hopefully will explain below.
To start with, being in business is hard. Especially if you are a leader or an owner. It take a certain type of character to be driven every day to achieve their best. You have to be tough, hard working and motivated, even if people around you are not fully committed. Let’s think about what someone needs to run a marathon, other than a pair of good trainers and some
ability to run. They need mental toughness, hard work and self-motivation. Characteristics that should sound familiar in the business world. Yes, running a successful company, or being a leader, takes the same skills set as being an endurance athlete. This is why you will see your boss, or a colleague, jumping on their bike to ride home in the rain – for fun! What
makes them successful at work transitions across to endurance athletes fairly easily. If we now accept that there are a lot of similar characteristics that help you in both disciplines, then what would the top three attributes be and why? I have completed a number of these events and, yes, I have been that Lycra clad weirdo riding to and from work in preparation for an Ironman race, and I found the following three traits useful in both my
training and career:
Organisational Skills – This goes with out saying. People training for endurance events and business owners/leaders all have one thing in common: they are very time poor. There is always more training session to be done, or another email to send. Both disciplines require you to be organised. But, this is not your general organisation: you have to be very organised to be successful. There are many things to juggle on a daily basis and you need to make time for your family and friends. It’s an art that takes time and practice to perfect. When you do, life feels a little less
stressful and you feel that you can conquer anything. Whether it’s preparing for a team meeting, or packing your rucksack to run across the desert, both time, structure, an eye for detail, and (most importantly) practice and experience make you better. Only by doing and making mistakes, do you learn and make it better the next time. In both cases, success or failure can be put down to your ability to organise
yourself and others.
Resilience – 13 hours into a 52 mile run across the desert, the sun was going down and it was the fourth straight day I’d been running in temperatures in excess of 42c. Four nights of sleeping in open tents and four days of self-sustainment ration packs had taken their toll. I felt a little sorry for myself. OK fine: very sorry for myself. This was an utterly normal response to a tricky and tiring situation. Let’s be honest, this can also be said about some days at work. The one factor that gets you through any
hard situation is resilience or ‘mental toughness’. It’s something that wasn’t talked about much until recently. When you look at great leaders, or runners, they have buckets of the stuff. But remember, very few people are CEOs, or run 100 miles, on their very first day. It is built up after years of mistakes, knock backs and failures. All of these add to a bank of experiences that you can call upon to help you through the difficult times. There is no greater feeling than watching the sun rise over the Sahara desert with the finish line in sight, knowing fitter, faster and better prepared runners are behind you. This is the same in the office: very rarely is it the best educated, or the most experienced, that gets the promotion or makes a success of a new business. It’s the ones with the most grit and determination.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) – This is talked about a fair bit nowadays, but not so often used. It was more of an academic term in the early and mid-90s, but you will now find it in every book on leadership or management. However, when do you see endurance athletes using it? There are five key components to EI: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. If you have run a 10k or a half marathon, you must admit, the majority of people are pretty friendly. There is always someone to offer you help, advice or a spare gel pack when you look out of your feet
and need a sugar boost. As an endurance athlete, you need all five of the above components to make any event a success. In most cases, you will be travelling to the event by yourself and probably end up forgetting some kit, or needing help with your bike or wetsuit. Social skills are very much needed: you will almost always receive a little empathy from your fellow competitors to help you out of your predicament. This has been my experience when I’ve taken over new team or joined new businesses –
empathy opens a few doors. However, at the real core of any successful athlete, or business owner, is self-awareness, motivation and self-regulation. There are times in the office, or 18 miles into a marathon, when you can’t understand why you started this, or you suddenly get the urge to scream at someone. Deep down you know yourself, your own values, and why you put yourself through this pain. The ultimate goal of seeing your business grow, or collecting your first triathlon medal, is your
motivation and so self-regulation stops you giving up or screaming at colleagues! Success doesn’t happen by accident and EI will always have a big role in your success.
The above characteristics don’t always come naturally to everyone. So there is one last thing that people can do: get a coach/mentor. This is a sure fire way to improve your chances of being successful in either a 10km open water swim, or when you are setting up a brand new business. A good coach or mentor will help you with nearly everything: investigating strengths and weaknesses; providing you with practical advice from experience; listening to your issues and ideas; and, most importantly, they will support you in helping you achieve your goals. Running a business, leading a team, or competing in your first ultra-marathon is a very lonely experience. Having a trusted coach there for you, along for the journey, is priceless. Even better, it should allow you to get to your end goal more quickly and with less heartache. Take it from someone who is both a coach/mentor and has used a coach: in business and to help me with endurance events. A coach can simply be the determining factor that allows your to succeed.