“Look at me!” I thought, thrilled with the image of myself running into the Chesapeake Bay with the hundred or so other swimmers. Man, it felt great! I eagerly ran as fast and as far as possible. Finally, the water became so deep that I couldn’t make any more progress vertically. I collapsed my knees, put my head in the water, and began to swim.
At which point I realized that I was totally and utterly out of breath.
I was panting. My heart was racing. My legs were numb with fatigue. (Ever try running as fast as you can in waist-high water? If you have anything to do in the next hour that requires use of your legs, I don’t recommend it.) And I had two miles of swimming ahead of me!
So that’s how I began my first two-mile open water race. Not the greatest start!
What does this have to do with leadership? Three things:
- First, it’s a reminder to take the long range view. Enthusiasm is great. In fact, it’s essential if we’re going to succeed with our work goals, proposals, and projects. But it’s only one factor. We’ve also got to have our eyes on the big picture, the long-term goal. When we are thinking about our ultimate destination, then we can plan how we’re going to get there. And that allows us to pace each step of the way.
- Second, it’s a reminder that group energy is great, but our primary goal is to stay connected to ourselves. To our own context, our own goals, our personal styles, our own energy levels. It takes effort to regularly stop what we’re doing and check in with yourself, but it allows us to stay true to our own goals.
- Third, we can learn from mistakes. It took me less than a second to realize I’d made a mistake, a grave error with a large impact on my performance in the race. After I caught my breath, found a good rhythm, and finished the race, one of the first things I thought was “Whew, I’m never starting a race THAT way again!” My first race, and I already knew this vital insight. All mistakes are useful information.