What's the 262 in the two.six.two group all about?

It's about marathons, it's about life, it's about life's marathons. I can't remember when it first struck me; how much marathons and leadership have in common. I do know that the first 26.2 that I ran humbled me, made me fiercely proud and filled my head with more metaphors about leadership and living life large than the number of times my feet hit the ground running that marathon.

Crossing that first finish line was an unimaginable high, but hanging up my medal, bronzing my running shoes, nursing my wounds and getting on with my regularly scheduled life was no longer an option. I craved the challenge of learning more; more about faster; more about stronger; more about the journey itself. Exactly what I could achieve was unknown but I certainly knew I could be faster than the 80 year old gentleman captured in my 'finishers photo' ahead of me. Exactly what I would learn was a huge surprise. I simply wasn't ready to settle for having done my best. I was inspired - isn't that what inspiration is all about - taking risks, succeeding sometimes, failing others, always learning. Believing that starting from your heart and soul will lead you somewhere that will be just perfect.

Have you explored your own limits? Where are you stuck? What stories have you made up about what you can or cannot do? How do you inspire others to find their greatest selves? How have you defined success for yourself? Ever thought things like: "Oh, I could never run a marathon!" Baloney! Anybody can do it! I am the poster child for "anybody can do it"! The most difficult part is before you even lace up your running shoes; the most difficult part is making a purposeful decision to try, why not?

What would you try if you knew you couldn't fail? What risks would you take?

26.2 miles is a goal, and like everything in life you need a plan to achieve that goal. I was so charged after that first marathon that as soon as all memory of the last five miles had been gratefully erased, I decided to aim for a qualifying time for Boston; this would now make me a real runner. I worked with a trainer. I wrote my goal time (53 minutes faster than the first one) on my calendar, on my office wall, on my bathroom mirror, and I asked for help; I knew I couldn't go it alone. We came up with a plan to achieve my goal. I lifted, I ran, I worked, I slept, I iced, I ate well, I was a machine, it was all part of the plan. I kept a log, my calendar included corporate meetings with the CEO and track workouts; I checked off the miles, the muscles, the achievements along the way. This was my plan to achieve my goal. While a specific time was my stated goal, I knew the real goal was about self-esteem, discipline and achievement. Without my plan I wouldn't have had a chance of achieving my goal.

What's your plan? How will you achieve it? Are you willing to fail? What is possible?

To show up as a true leader, you'll need to stretch out of your comfort zone. My casual but long runs, difficult as they were, would have given me endurance, but no speed. I hated speed work at the track, but I cherished its result. Spending time outside my comfort zone generated a measurable outcome; I was faster. Improvement was slow but it was steady -- each week closer to my goal.

Where are you living outside your comfort zone? How are you putting challenges in front of you in service of getting stronger? (What are you perhaps avoiding)? Are you just going along for the ride? Are you coming up with some radical ideas to really shake things up? Where are you playing safe? What can you do to stretch yourself today?

How could you become a more effective leader by stretching out of your comfort zone?

And now for the journey where the real learning happens. The goal keeps you moving forward; the journey is is in the act of discovering what you really want and having going for it. I missed my qualifying time in that second race by 7 lousy minutes, but I winced for only a second and quickly realized that the lesson was much bigger.

Austin Gontag is a therapist who works while running with his clients -- he's my kind of guy! "Getting out and talking with others while you run or walk can help change your thoughts and give you a different perspective on how you choose to deal with anger, grief, or trauma," he says. It will also provide endless hours to think about who you are and exactly who you are choosing to become.

I got stronger, mentally and physically every step of the way. Becoming an effective leader is not a destination, it is an extended journey and its every step is where all the learning happens. My pace on the journey was also critical to my ability to finish and meet my goal. Start out too fast and I'll burn out before the finish line, too slow and I won't catch up with the competition. A steady but aggressive pace and I can savor the journey and absorb its lessons, knowing that I'll reach my destination.

What do you need to do to learn from the journey? Are you pacing yourself?

Another great metaphor is about keeping your cool - maintaining your vision - not getting victimized or derailed by everything going on around you. I drove out to my first practice long run on the actual Boston Marathon course and it hit me that 26.2 miles was a long way to drive let alone run! As I lined up at the start, it was not an option to focus on the finish line - I would have simply sat down; I needed to break the race up into manageable components. For me this equates to bite-size pieces - focusing on the next tree or the runner just ahead of me. I knew that if I got overwhelmed, nothing would work; panic releases chemicals into the system that create little beyond chaos.

In almost every marathon, my marathon gremlins ("I. Ache" and "Mrs. Stop-Now") appear and inevitably start singing and dancing in my head. I gently say hello to them and then invite them to sit down, rest, and feast on a big hot fudge sundae, returning my attention to the next target, the next street sign, or some adoring fan championing my every step. What I know is true is that I've worked too hard to give credence to these voices. One foot in front of the other, one more step, each one an important mini celebration, and before I know it I can visualize my finish line. I am soon running with the ease of a stealth jaguar.

Are you focused on the big picture? What can you celebrate today? Now? How can you champion one of your team members to help them find their own finish line?

Now there are times in our lives where we are just plain old stuck. Maybe what was once the ultimate challenge is now just boring. Perhaps you keep trying the same thing every day believing it to be just the right thing to achieve success - and you keep getting the same result every day. Notice anything? Maybe it's time to try something new?

If marathons aren't doing it for you try something else for a while - go hiking in the mountains - ride a horse bareback on the beach. If weekly meetings in the same room are not producing the results you're looking for; go outside - change the scenery! If you're delivering the same message over and over and nothing is shifting; shift yourself!

Have you lost the inspiration, the juice, the jazz? Are you striving for mediocrity? How does your team perceive you? Why not throw some cross training into your leadership style today and see what happens?

Do you know where you're stuck? How will you shake it up?

One of my biggest learnings in working with people is that if we want to change our behavior, and make it last, we need to pay attention to more than just how we act and what we do. We need to look at how we have defined ourselves. What self-limiting stories we have convinced ourselves are true. Completing the second marathon 47 minutes faster than the first, strong and fit, made me realize that the assumptions I have about myself are not always true! I wondered what assumptions about myself as a leader were preventing me from being inspirational, motivational and powerful? Have I defined myself in a way that limits my own potential? Where do I get in my own way?

So that's the 262 in the two.six.two group. Now over to you, how have you defined yourself? How would you like to define yourself? What's next on your journey? What is your next marathon?

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”
Eleanor Roosevelt