Running off the tracks

I’ve been a runner for years now. As a business owner, mum, friend and mentor, running has always provided me with the chance to just be. Running can be a bit of a love/hate relationship. Going from whatever you’re doing to getting yourself out on the road requires a good dose of discipline and self-control, but once you are out there, the rewards are plentiful. From the moment you kneel down, tie your laces and leave the house, running becomes as much about the mental benefits as it does the physical. 

For me, running has always been a chance to zone out completely and to focus on whatever is happening in that precise moment. When the lockdown came into effect and social distancing rules became our new normal, everything changed. 

No longer a chance to focus only on yourself and what was going on in your mind, you have to be aware of what’s going on, and who is, around you. What’s been interesting throughout the lockdown has been people’s reluctancy and inability to fully embrace change. I’ve been spending some time during my recent runs thinking about the skills and thought processes required when running in a socially-distant-society, and how similar they are to the types of leaders we are going to need to become in a post-pandemic world…

Recognising that things are different, whether we like it or not

When I first started my lockdown runs, what stuck out to me most were the other runners who either hadn’t realised they were expected to behave differently, and were still going about their workouts in their own bubble. While incredibly frustrating, it was this that made me realise there are two types of people: those who will accept that things are different, and those who won’t. This happens all the time in the business world: the world moves on, trends and topics change and evolve, and conversations stop and start. If you can’t evolve as things change, or pivot your business to meet your customers at the other side, you’ll ultimately fall behind.

Being able to understand what’s ahead, and making sense of it quickly

A good runner will be able to assess the immediate ground underfoot, which is akin to business as usual. A great runner, and business leader, will be thinking ahead of business as usual and planning for the twists and turns that inevitably come up. While none of us could have predicted a global pandemic, rather anything that would have forced us to change our working styles so radically, we’ve all had to quickly and efficiently learn how to adapt our strategies quickly with each twist and turn.

Practising agility and flexibility

Much of social distance running has been about being flexible in your approach: running on the road or the grass, crossing through parks and pausing to let people pass. All things that aren’t necessarily big, but are important parts of being agile and flexible in your approach. Not just our strategies and processes, lockdown has taught us that we need to practice flexibility when it comes to our people: many have been literally traumatised by the changes we’ve had to make to our day-to-day lives. Remote working, video calling, and project management tools are all things we’re having to come to terms with and we all adapt at different paces. As a leader, flexibility doesn’t just mean changing the ways we work personally, but also how we engage with, and talk to, others in our teams. Ultimately, we do this because we know we get the best out of people when they are comfortable, feel safe and feel that their voice is heard, and listened to. 

Honing our skills of resilience and bouncing back 

I think most people who have ever exercised or have trained for a sporting event know that it can be really hard to keep up your mojo, and it’s exactly the same when you’re running a business. We go through days, or weeks and months, feeling like everything is going our way: we’re nailing our pitches, we’re having some great conversations and the team are collectively doing some great work. We’re happy with the pace, the culture and the work that is being done.

This feeling seldom lasts forever as running a business forces you to face challenges, have conversations and to make decisions that are simply not easy. Resilience is a skill that can be learned and developed. It may make us feel uncomfortable, and it can be really irritating and demotivating, but forcing yourself back into your zone is the only way to grow as a leader.

Taking time to develop ourselves 

Progress is always best realised when we really commit to, and invest in, what we’re working on. With running, skipping a few days will have effects we might have otherwise avoided by switching up our workouts or doing something different to benefit us. The same goes for leading a business. If we spend too much of our time focused on business as usual, or not investing enough time into our skills as a leader, we might not progress as quickly as we’d like to. It can be so easy to forget about ourselves while we’re busy checking in on those around us, supporting them and making sure they have the tools and resources they need to succeed, but it’s so important to take time out for our own development, reflection and learning to make sure we are progressing and finding fulfilment in the work we’re doing.

Jo Geraghty
Jo is a Director and Co-Founder of Culture Consultancy, specialising in cultural change and employee experience. She is a regular speaker, author and guest lecturer, and a champion of women in business. 
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