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By Darryl Stewart

A personal story of setting the bar high and failing

I recently ran a half marathon with the expectation I would run my best time ever. I had run the same race the previous year and set my current personal best (PB). I had trained more and better than ever before. I had set a new PB for the full marathon just a few months prior. In other words, it was my time.

I was aiming to beat 1 hour and 34 minutes. I utterly failed and ran 1 hour and 43 minutes instead. A very slow time for me. A big disappointment.

The mistake I made was a last-minute decision to run a very fast pace to start and to gradually slow down as I tired out. This started out fine, but I tired out way sooner than I thought I would, and I could not maintain the pace I needed to beat my PB.

In retrospect, the pace I chose to start at was not realistic. When I reviewed my training, I had never before run more than three kilometres at that pace. I had no business trying to run a long race that fast. Deep down I was also hoping to run at that pace for the whole race and really blow away my PB. This was crazy talk. You cannot simply will yourself to do something so far beyond your conditioning. You can push yourself through tough physical situations, walk farther, go longer without food, pump out more push-ups, etc. But if you want to do anything at a high level, you must be conditioned to do it, or you will be outdone by your better-prepared competitors. My competitor in this situation was unyielding – time stands still for no one.

The parallels between my leadership experience and this situation are striking for me. I half wrote this blog on the painful last half of the run between bouts of nausea. “What have I learned here?” “What parallels are there in this to my experience as a leader?” …is what I was thinking about.

The big parallel is trying to push too hard too soon too fast for what you are capable of as a leader and where your team is at. Many times, I have set the bar too high, underestimating how long things take, overestimating my own capabilities and the capabilities of the team I am leading. Nowadays, we tend to hit most of our quarterly and annual goals. In the past we routinely missed them. They were super aspirational rather than slightly aspirational and realistic. Seem similar to the run fail?

This also applies to interactions with each of the people I coach and lead. It is not motivational to set growth goals so high that they are routinely missed, or the person makes unsustainable sacrifices in order to meet them. We need to move forward more sustainably than that with people, understanding where each is at, what their personal goals are, and what we think they are capable of.

Vern Harnish wrote that the best leaders are the ones who are best at predicting outcomes and delegating work. They understand how things function in their world of work, they can see what needs doing to reach the desired outcomes, and they can delegate the right roles and tasks to the right people.

I have signed up for another half marathon in February. I hope that blog is not about some new life lesson I have learned through my failure, but rather about how I have a new PB!

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