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3 Leadership Lessons from Running

I enjoy running, climbing and cycling. I do not win any medals nor do I finish first in my age group, so if you are wanting lessons from a winner, check out Runner's World Training or training and racing at Ultrarunner Online. But, I have discovered connections between my running and leading an organization. I also make the connection between physical wellness and spiritual maturing in my book A New Way of Living. (I figured if Paul, the Apostle, made those connects, I could too.)

Here are three lessons I have learned from my 15+ years of running that I shared with our Board of Governors and Hub staff at B. H. Carroll as I have begun my new role as President of the Institute.

1. Your core determines your strength.

A runner's core is key to provide the strength to complete whatever distance he or she chooses. Most people have lower back problems because their abdomens are week. In running, when the core goes the back and legs go, and you are done reaching your PR. You may crawl across the finish line, but you cannot perform at your peak with a weak core. (I like these core exercises by Josh Cox.)

The same is true of organizations. Your core determines your strength. Focus on your core competencies, core practices, and what Jim Collins calls your "economic engine." Do you have the infrastructure, communication, and support needed to do what you do best?  If you spend all your time adding new initiatives or products and you do not strengthen your core, your organization will be crushed under the weight of the new programs.

2. Your base determines your distance.

You don't decide on Monday to run a marathon on Sunday. The key to distance is a slowly built base of miles over a long period of time. Most programs say you need a weekly base of 25 miles per week before you start training seriously. Yes, there are couch-to-5k programs, but you most likely not do another one if you prepare this way. Training is a lifestyle, and your base mileage determines how far you can go. Of course, if your goal is a 100-mile ultra, your base better be much larger than that for a 5k. Base is built gradually. The norm is no more than 10% increase over last week's distance.

Organizations fail when they seek to achieve goals beyond their base or capacity. What make up an organization's base? I'm not an expert here either, but common sense tells me resources are primary to expansion. Do you have the funds, the people, and the support to extend your reach? If your core is strong, what can you add that will lengthen your base without causing injury to the body? Organizations fail when they seek to add to their base too quickly in order to reach a goal that is worthy but beyond their base.

3. Your goals propel you to excel.

Without a goal, you will never put down the chips and get off the couch. Goals or the vision of crossing the finish line of your first organized run motivate you to improve and excel beyond your last event. From pacing someone on their first half marathon to climbing Mt. Rainier in Washington, goals give you a destination for your daily trek of preparation. Goals force you to plan and re-structure  your status quo in order to accomplish what you have seen in your heart to complete. I keep an event on my calendar at all times in order to motivate me to train on days I would rather not.

Much has been written on the importance of goals for organizations, and I have some for Carroll as we launch our second decade of equipping men and women called to serve Christ and his church. Whatever you call them, BHAG goals, or however you measure them, SMART goals, have goals! Oh, yes. A friend told me once a goal is not a goal until it is written down and told to others. The same is true of plans. Without goals your organization will remain eating chips on the couch while the world runs past them to reach theirs.