Big Things I Learned About Leadership from Endurance Running

I’ve been in some position of leadership for most of my working career. My father demonstrated this leadership to me when he started what ultimately became Memphis Invest in 2004. As a partner in the company, I’ve found myself at the helm of countless leadership decisions — not only for the sake of the company, but in my own journey as an entrepreneur, speaker, and writer.

If you’ve been reading the blog for any length of time, you know that I’m an avid endurance runner. I love the art of high-impact athleticism, and running? Running is my favorite.

At first glance, there’s nothing in this hobby that really translates to leadership, either with Memphis Invest or in my own entrepreneurial pursuits. It’s my work and my hobby, separately.

I’ve come to realize, however, that this is far from the truth. My record as an endurance runner has profoundly impacted my understanding of what it means to be a leader. I just didn’t realize it.


What Endurance Running Showed Me About Leadership

1) Consistency is key.

In running, if you hope to achieve your goals in terms of time and fitness, you have to be consistent. When I’m out on an injury or wrestling with an uncooperative schedule, getting back in the saddle is a challenge. It’s impossible to pick up exactly where you left off if you’ve missed a week or two in your exercise routine.

The more you do something, the more you want to do it and the better you get at it. As a runner, that routine is everything. If I want to run a good marathon, I have to be dedicated to training for it. No one can run a race well if they are inconsistent in their preparations! You’re asking for a long, hard run without the proper training to support your body.

What does that have to do with leadership?

Well, it comes down to consistency. The routine. For those of us in leadership, we have to fall into our “groove” in the same way that disciplined exercise makes it easier and easier to do.

Establishing a routine not only makes you more organized and productive in your career, but it allows you to effortlessly communicate strength and confidence to your team. If you know what you’re doing, you will project an image that inspires trust and loyalty.

Your team is always watching — are you consistent and disciplined?

2) Push through tough spots.

Runners deal with a little something called “the wall.” This is the point, usually in running a marathon, where your body just shuts off any will to continue. You feel like you’re at your absolute breaking point, propelled only by your own muscle memory.

Endurance running is a tough gig. Even for experienced runners, the wall is challenging to confront and overcome. 

We hit our own “walls” in leadership and they demand the same sense of endurance to overcome. We’re designed to avoid pain — to do everything we can to get out of bad situations. However, the endurance runner can no more stop when they hit the wall than a leader can!

Your “wall” in leadership could be anything — a big business failure, an employee that keeps missing the mark, or your own shortcomings. But we can’t throw in the towel. As leaders, it is up to us to rally in times of trial. Both for our own sake and for the sake of those we lead. Just like the endurance runner, the wall must be overcome, one way or another.

3) Listen to your own voice.

One thing I learned fairly quickly in my time as an endurance runner is just how much your body communicates with you. Runners must be constantly cognizant of the stress and strain they put themselves through. They have to be able to differentiate between soreness and injury. They have to recognize their physical limitations and adjust accordingly.

This has taught me to listen to myself in leadership, too. We’re in a world with many competing voices and models for leadership. However, we’re all in unique places and circumstances that demand a different response. 

You have to decide your leadership style, your workplace habits, and your professional conduct based on your voice. Your morals. Your priorities. 

Embrace your context and your own goals and ambitions. Once you have defined them, it will be easier to measure whether or not you’re still on track — just like the endurance runner listening to their body as they race.

Has your hobby given you valuable insights into your professional career? Share your experiences in the comments.