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For Effective Leadership: Do the Work!

Leading complex organizations is a lot like running marathons


Years (and pounds) ago I ran marathons. I was a young father and worked too much, so I ran them with less-than-desirable training miles per week, causing me to fade at the 20-mile mark. I could not finish strong. I was proud of my effort and times but could’ve done much better with more miles under my belt. Desire alone won’t allow most people to run a successful marathon — only desire and lots of practice miles.

Effective leadership of complex organizations is similar. Young, bright, inquisitive, emotionally intelligent people have copious talent, but they don’t have the miles necessary to run a better race.

However, there are ways to enhance training, whether you’re running a race or an organization. We did a lot of LSD when I was running. No, not the hallucinogenic acid. It stands for long slow distance — putting in the miles. I haven’t been a distance runner for many years so won’t attempt to coach runners, but I know that high-intensity, functional training creates better fitness at an all-around level than LSD. And focused activity around learning leadership is much more effective than just punching the time card.

Comparing leadership and athletic performance is tenuous at best. You cannot bluff your way onto an Olympic team, because everything is transparent and measurable. People can, however, sometimes bluff their way into leadership roles without the essential talent or experience. They’re the chocolate bunnies that we’ve all experienced — sweet on the outside, hollow on the inside.

Whether you’re a young manager or a senior leader, there’s no substitute for doing the hard work of improving yourself. Hard, but also fascinating and enjoyable if your mind is in the right place.

You have to train to run a marathon. Desire alone won’t move you over the 26.2 miles. Likewise, the fact that you used to be able to run a marathon doesn’t mean you’re still capable, unless you continue to train.

In business—particularly leading others—I don’t care how smart you are — you still need to do the work.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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