4 lessons on leadership I learned from running a half marathon
by Paula Braz, Head of Marketing na Xpand IT
Running a half marathon is an experience that goes beyond the physical aspect of it all. It’s a journey of resilience and through knowing yourself that starts way before the day of the run. It all starts in the exact moment you put on your running sneakers and set yourself up to run 21 km (more precisely, 21 097.5 meters). The lessons you add up throughout these months of preparation become so useful for other challenges in your life, including those related to leadership and inspiring people. These are the 4 lessons on leadership I learned by running a half marathon.
1 – Why you should know yourself
When I set myself up to run a half marathon, I was far from imagining that I was going to face a challenge that would go way beyond physical preparation. At the same time that I got my legs in action, my mind (mostly acting as a saboteur) tried to convince me, at every 5-minute mark, that I should give up. Yet, I persisted. And in every extra minute, every extra kilometre, I found a resilience and a motivation in myself that I had no knowledge of. Quickly I realized that, by managing my inner dialogue, I could accomplish way more than I thought.
This first lesson shaped how I started to face being a leader to people. I believe that being a leader doesn’t start by leading others, but by leading themselves. That is the base from which you learn to look at yourself in a constructive and criticizing manner and thus taking that vision to others with empathy. Beyond managing people, self-leadership allows you to transform and inspire others.
From theory to practice — When I embraced the challenge of leading a marketing team at XpandIT, I was a first journey leader, but, fortunately, I had already some work on self-knowledge in my beginner’s baggage. Thus, upon facing new management challenges, I was able to find internal strategies to “create time” between reaction and action — that is, I learned to become my own leader before being other people’s leader. The challenge presented itself and I wouldn’t have an immediate response to it. I would take it home with the certainty that the right response would come to me. And, almost every time, that would happen. It seemed like it was magic, but it wasn’t. It was “just” emotional intelligence in action.
2 – Preparation is everything (planning and adapting)
Training for a half marathon is a very personal process. It comes off (literally) of your skin, in all aspects. And even though you can follow a predefined plan, it’s important to listen to yourself so that, according to your own goals, you can adapt your plan to what makes sense to you. That’s how I quickly learned the importance of doing your homework and preparing the months that would come before the run, as well as reviewing my plan whenever necessary. And when I talk about preparation, I am talking about not only the training, but also every inherent routine (diet, rest, sleep, etc.). The balance between these different aspects is what, at the end of the day, allows you to achieve the best performance possible.
This second lesson is something that I have been taking to being a leader. Planning is essential and that planning can come from something predefined, but it is extremely important that it is adapted. Every situation is unique, every context is unique, every person is unique, and, therefore, every planning should also be unique. Adapted planning is key, always counting on a good portion of improvising and intuition.
From theory to practice — When you work in marketing of a technology company, you quickly realize that planning has to have the ability to be highly innovative and, therefore, has to be simultaneously flexible and robust. In the innovation culture at Xpand IT, we promote a constant aligning of our strategy with reality, thus our marketing plans are subject to constant revisions and are also based on an OKR’s agile methodology.
3 – The pleasure is (also) in the journey
Running a half marathon is a lot more than performing a 21km run. It’s the result of months of training at a physical, mental and emotional level that take you to a whole new stage. And that’s what makes this challenge so special. Truth is when you cross the finish line, you’re not the same person that, one day, put on their running shoes for the first time.
When you face a leadership challenge, the experience is similar. Being a leader is a lot more than managing people. It’s a process that challenges you and transforms you as a professional and as a person on a daily basis. Throughout this process (this journey) you grow and you change and find new ways of being a better leader to your team. And this learning perspective and continuous improvement makes the journey specially exciting, and the destination (achieving our goal, achieving a result, materializing a vision) way more gratifying.
From theory to practice — Without a doubt that leading people is the most enriching professional experience that I have lived and is also the one that has most made me grow. At the beginning, the biggest challenge was being able to assure de department’s operability and understanding each person’s unique traits. Today, two and a half years later, that challenge was surpassed, but I am still growing as a leader. I have more strategic challenges in sight, but I always keep my focus on contributing to every person’s development that, every day, have the wonderful gift to surprise me once again.
4 – From the individual to the collective
Even though running is mostly a lonely sport, each one of us, as a collaborative person, values being part of something bigger, especially if that something has a positive and significant impact in ourselves and others.
And that’s why even though I prepared for and ran a half marathon by myself, it was essential, for me, to feel that I had a network of support during the process and that, at the end of the day, the achievement, the celebration was bigger than me — it was truly something collective.
This fourth and last lesson that I am sharing with you is, for me, one of the most important ones in leading people. The sense of a collective mission is the Holy Grail that should never escape the horizon of the leader. Learning how to manage the collective mission with the personal interests, while always maintaining the organizational objective, is the key to assure motivation, alignment and happiness of the people working with you.
From theory to practice — Every time someone goes in the marketing department, I present them the internal organizational chart of the team and I highlight that, even though each person has their own responsibilities, in times of need, “roles” disappear for the greater good. And that’s the certainty of being part of something bigger that leads us every day and allows us to maintain our alignment and motivation as a team, despite our personal motivations.
4 lessons on leadership that I learned from running a half marathon — Much more than a physical challenge, running 21km teaches you a lot about who you are, showing you your true abilities and limitations. At the same time, leading people goes beyond management. It’s a gigantic professional challenge that gives you the possibility to inspire and transform other people’s lives, managing personal motivations, towards a common objective. And I wholeheartedly believe my mission as a leader is to optimize every tool possible so that every person on my team can grow and be truly fantastic in whatever they want to be. “Leadership is not a pedestal, it’s a foundation.” — unknown author.