Eric P. Bloom: What marathon running taught me about being a manager
With last week’s Boston Marathon still fresh in the minds of runners and sports enthusiasts everywhere, I thought it would be a good week to compare the discipline and rigor of marathon running with the steadfastness and level of effort needed to be great manager.
Let’s first consider what’s required to properly train to run a marathon. You must:
- Make the decision that you would one day like to run a marathon (we’ll call this long-term vision).
- You must have a personal fortitude to say to yourself “Yes, I can do this.”
- Do the needed research to learn how to safely and efficiently train for the event.
- Develop a long-term training plan based on your research (six months to a year based on your starting level of physical ability and running background).
- Define benchmarks (how fast you run) and milestones (how long you run) that are sprinkled throughout your training plan.
- Buying the right equipment based on your research and the advice of specialists (getting the right shoes, etc.).
- Learn about topics that will maximize your chance of success, such as proper nutrition, proper hydration and cross training.
- You must commit to properly execute your plan (this may mean getting up early on Sunday morning to run after a late dinner with friends the night before).
- Dealing with obstacles such as bad weather and injuries.
- Your must properly prioritize your life in a way that allows you to meet your goal of running 26.2 miles in a reasonable time, without ignoring other important priorities (your job) and your stakeholders (your spouse, family members and friends).
- During the training stage, you must compare your planned training to actual performance.
- You must be willing to modify your plan and/or goals based on actual performance.
- Lastly, on the day of the race, (or in my case, a long slow run) be willing to do the right things based on your planning, preparation and common sense.
Now let’s talk about management.
- You must develop a long-term strategy for your department to be sure it is moving in a direction that will best fit your company’s short and long-term goals.
- You must believe in yourself, believe in your team and inspire those working for you to follow your vision.
- Do the needed research to learn how to convert your vision into the appropriate short-term tactics and long-term plan needed to realize your vision.
- Develop a business plan based your research.
- Include benchmarks, false deadlines and milestones in your plan to help maintain momentum and measure your progress.
- Get the best tools possible (based on budget, of course) needed for your team to do the job in the best and safest possible way (software programs, machinery, testing tools, protective wear, etc.).
- Learn about topics that are important, but ancillary, to your primary task, such as industry trends, current economic conditions and company sales forecasts.
- Show your personal commitment and insist on your team’s commitment to properly execute the plan, even when it sometimes gets tough.
- Dealing with obstacles like employee turnover, tight annual budgets, conflicting priorities and other business issues.
- Work with your manager and others to define the appropriate business priorities in a way that helps you meet your goals as well as your department’s commitments to others.
- Continually compare your plan to your actual progress in regard to budget, project milestones, and other Key Success Factors (KSFs).
- Be willing to modify your plans if business necessities arise.
- On a day-to-day basis, be willing to do the right thing for your customers, your company, your team members and yourself.
The moral of this comparison isn’t that you should run a marathon, even though it is an incredible experience and accomplishment. The moral is that being a great manager requires personal commitment, the strength of character to do the right thing even if it’s hard, the willingness to do your homework before making difficult decisions, the ability to plan ahead, and have the steadfastness to follow through on your plans toward their desired result.
The primary advice and takeaways from today’s column is to know that:
- Like running a marathon, being a great manager requires personal strength, personal character, hard work, commitment, vision, planning and proper preparation.
Until next time, manage well, manage smart and continue to grow.
Eric P. Bloom is the president of Manager Mechanics LLC, a company specializing in information technology leadership development and the governing organization for the Information Technology Management and Leadership Professional (ITMLP) and Information Technology Management and Leadership Executive (ITMLE) certifications. Contact him at eric@ManagerMechanics.com, follow him on Twitter at @EricPBloom, or visit www.ManagerMechanics.com.