Recently, I had a chance to run the Bruckelaufe 1/2 marathon in Frankenmuth, MI—it was my fifth time. Aside from the beautiful fall Michigan countryside, Bronner's year-round Christmas store and Zehnder's world famous fried chicken, Frankenmuth is a small central Michigan town that feels almost stuck in time. It's Michigan's little Bavaria.
What makes this race awesome are the number of small and large bridges you cross...this year was particularly challenging as it rained the entire time. Aside from the fact that my training wasn't where it should have been, the race proved a challenging reminder on why these events are called, "races," in the first place. Whether racing against your self or others, there is much to be learned in the Bruckelaufe.
This year, I tried to take pics of as many bridges as I could...till my phone stopped taking pictures due to the rain. As I reviewed my pics, I was struck with the leadership lessons from the bridges. Let me share a few...
Beware of Slippery Surfaces
I don't care what running shoe you wear, you have to watch out for those slippery surfaces. They don't always look as nasty as they can actually be. And when you hit it, get ready for the dance. Worse yet, rolled ankles, broken wrists. You get the idea.
When building the culture of your organization, do your bridges have slippery surfaces? Are there indications of hazardous footings? Your culture bridges won't always be perfect, but noticing when there's danger shows your insight and EQ as a leader. It's a powerful leadership trait to keep the safety and needs of your people first and foremost.
Work Zone Begins
In the mass of moving people, I was distracted by the crowd, but I saw the sign: Work Zone Begins. I was around mile number five—and this is about the time you realize you are actually running a race.
Leadership development is work. Great leaders don't win popularity contests. In fact, in Good to Great, Jim Collins makes the strong case that the best leaders don't have overly strong personalities but are the more humble, supportive, and focused ones. If you subscribe to the Gary Vaynerchuk approach you'll hear the words, "hard work," repeated an infinite number of times.
You can't expect to be a great leader—or have a great leadership-centric culture—if you aren't willing to put in the work. Your people will sniff it out fast. Dis-ingenuity and lack of authenticity become obvious quickly.
The Splash Zone
Splash! The rules of slippery surfaces also applies, but the reminder I'm shooting for here relates more to the notion of contact points...where the rubber meets the road.
In a leadership context, contact points are everywhere. I've heard this effectively taught as a leadership shadow. What kind of shadow do your words and actions cast? In leadership, there isn't room or sympathy for the excuse that what you said or did isn't want you intended to say or do. The reality is, it all counts. The splash down effect is unmistakable and undeniable. Another way for saying, "it is what it is."
Splash zones are good for leaders. They give you immediate feedback on the type of shadow you are casting. Good leaders recognize it and learn from it. They don't waste time trying to explain it. The take every opportunity to become more self aware and improve the quality of their team touch points.
The Unexpected Left-Hand Turn
This is as it sounds...a bridge you might miss if you aren't paying attention. Somewhere around mile nine, I found a hidden gem—a large creek right before a surprising left-hand turn. The creek is a distraction. You actually need to stop and take it all in.
Unexpected bridges and full left turns are to be expected in your leadership experience. The symptoms of this bridge usually present themselves when your not expecting it. And when the road turns, be ready to go with it. You could try to carve a new road, and sometimes you should. But I like to think of this concept as learning to meet your team and culture where they are versus you think they are. You'll cover much more ground acknowledging current realities than making up new ones. Plus, if you approach this right, you'll create the opportunity with your team to carve new roads.
Challenging Paths Emerge Brightly
The leadership journey isn't easy. It can and should be challenging. When undertaken for good intentions, it can be tremendously rewarding. It's never about you, it's always about the desire to help others. Helping others capture a vision after experiencing adversity underscores how one emerges brightly. With spectacular results.
Great leaders inspire their people at every stage of the journey. They help them cut through difficulty, not miss what matters, and see a glorious end they might not currently see! Thank you to the great leaders that have inspired me. Maybe you can see a bit of you somewhere in the bridge race! May your paths be challenging your your bridges emerge brightly!