Distance Running and change !

I took to running sometime back. Long distance running. While it has helped keeping the health in check it has had numerous other ‘corollary’ benefits, if you will.

Time to reflect and think would go up ahead in the list for me. Bereft of the mobile phone and any other form of ‘interference’, it offers you time and space to think. To jostle with an idea while the foot pounds the pavement.

While running today, I asked myself if there were any similarities between long distance running and leading change in large organisations. By the time we finished the run, I had enough thoughts that I deemed fit to fit a post !

The Czech runner Emil Zatoptek said it like no one else did, about marathon running.

“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon”

Marathon running is a different sport altogether. It requires patience, perseverance, persistence, loads of luck. Not to mention pretty hard nosed training and diet !

Well, driving change in organisations is no different. What works for running works for change leaders as well. Here are the top five that I juggled with today as I ran the 26 kilometers!

1. The inherent need for patience

Perhaps a basic ingredient for any long distance course is patience. Long distances don’t get over in a jiffy. It takes a long while. To be able to spot the bends in the road and to see that they are not the ‘end of the road’ makes a huge difference. To stay aligned to the course over long durations of time, despite changes outside requires patience !
No different for change leaders. For change happens, if at all in such small installments that sticking in there for a long period of time is de rigueur.

Long distance running is not about a burst of energy. It is sustained energy. It is three quarters in the mind. The course of the road changes often. The climate changes. And the body reacts to these changes in a positive or negative way.
An established runner quipped on a day when nothing was working out for me for well over half of the race “When everything is going wrong, be patient. When everything is going right, be patient.”

Patience is perhaps the biggest ingredient of change initiatives in organisations. Effective leaders know this and drive change at a pace that will sustain the organisation and yet be patient for changes to take root.

2. Rhythm :

I have seen runners who have the best strides. Some who look majestic. Yet other who run with a purpose. A few who really run at great speed. It has been tempting to align with these people. And think that it would rub off on you. But the real runners who have helped me complete a course are those that share a similar rhythm as mine. Who go ‘toe to toe’, in a way !

Change leaders achieve great results when aligning themselves with the rhythm of the organisation, the requirement and strike a balance.

Change leaders finding the right allies with a rhythm that matches theirs or which is something that they can adapt to, is critical.

3. Different Paces for Different Races

Every race is different. Every course is different. Therefore every race is run differently. The basic preparation may remain the same. The course is Mumbai is quite different from say the course in Amsterdam. One has dry, humid weather and a few inclines with massive crowd support with fantastic . The other has very pleasant weather, flat terrain with little help from people! Pacing, racing and acing these races are as different, as jiggery and energy gel !

Every change initiative is different. Sometimes, even within an organisation, different functions take to leading and understanding change very differently. To be alive to each step makes a huge difference to the running and to driving change. Every race requires a strategy of sorts. So does every change initiative!

4. See as far as your eye can see

The course of a full marathon is 42 kilometers. Or 26 miles. There is no change in that. I once was struggling at the 34th kilometer when a fellow runner, ran past me, asking me not to think of the finish line, but to just think of the distance ‘that the eye can see’. That idea stuck. And worked too.

For once you reach the distance that your saw, the eye is seeing and setting a new target of sorts. While thinking of how it would be to finish the race etc would indeed be good, it sometimes can get daunting.

It cant be very different to a change program for change happens in small installments  To break down large targets into small operational target which keeps getting modified and updated on the go, with the large target in mind is central to a change program.

5. The merit in metrics

Metrics help. It helps to know analyse and change. There are a slew of watches and apps on mobile phones can give you with multi colour graphics the exact spot where you sweated two droplets extra and where your heart beat was one hundredth of half a beat away from your normal beat cycle.

Personally these haven’t held my fancy. There is a merit in the metrics. But the race is to be run and the journey to be enjoyed. You know when you have indeed run a good race is when you run with rhythm, poise and finish strong irrespective of the constraints.

Change metrics in organisations can be fuzzy while being useful. Change metrics are useful. But the metrics are not the target. Real change is!

While having a perspective on the metrics (and reports and all that), good change practitioners know that metrics is just another means to tell them the health of the change process. Not an end in itself.

Change happens. Over time. So does a long run!

3 thoughts on “Distance Running and change !

  1. Spot on Kavi. I could ‘visualize’ the corollaries. And may I add that when its done, the benefits are always always exponentially better than what you aimed for. 🙂

  2. And you have to be a strong person first and then you get to be a strong runner / leader. 🙂

  3. Sanjith Menon says:

    Great Post,Kavi !

    In business much like marathon running, While you’re having a nice cold refreshment, there are many others who have not even crossed the starting line yet. Have patience and allow the walkers to complete the same race (journey) you did.

    Yes ! Time is an important factor in enabling successful change. Finally, change is external(transition is internal)…transition is what effects us…

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