Leadership lessons

Leadership lessons from running

Leaders often think that it's big things that make a difference. But make sure you pay attention to the
small things as they can make all the difference.


Andy Kaye | 29 March 2016

I'm in training for the London Marathon. Each Sunday for the last 6 weeks I have been doing my "long runs", gradually increasing in distance, up to my longest distance of 20 miles. It takes me ages to get ready for these long runs and I have a long list of all the things I need to take with me. I'm pretty good at remembering all these items. I get plenty of time to think on my runs, especially as I'm not a fast runner by any means. So last week as I trundled along the beautiful transpennine trail near Penistone in South Yorkshire, I started wondering which the most important item of equipment was. Trainers, running clothes, phone? So which is it? None of these but instead, Petroleum Jelly.

Why? It's such a little thing, but it’s massively important. On long runs, chafing is the number 1 thing that can cause a runner to not be able to run, in particular on the feet. Blisters can make the fittest runner unable to put one foot in front of the other. I'd be able to run further and faster than Mo Farah, if he had feet full of blisters and I didn't. 15 seconds putting petroleum jelly on my feet can help to prevent the blister, and help me stay on my feet.

So what's Petroleum Jelly got to do with leadership? I think it's that it's such a small thing that makes it important, and it's the small things that affect your ability to lead. A smile, a greeting, an expression of interest in your team are small things, but can massively affect them. Have them, and you stand a chance of winning the leadership race. Without them, you're likely to finish that race where I expect to finish the London Marathon. At the back of the field.

Leaders often think that it's big things that make a difference. Setting the strategy of an organisation, for example. What could be more important than that? Creating a vision for your organisation is massively important, but not the only thing. If you deliver the vision to your audience with a frown on your face, your colleagues will get a different message than the one you intend for them to receive. If you don't look like you are happy with the new vision, then why should your team be? A very small thing like a smile will make a massive difference to your message.

Sir David Brailsford refers often to the concept of "marginal gains" in improving the performance of his teams. Getting that extra 1% from a process or indeed changing that process to deliver an additional 1% in performance is key to his philosophy. Your additional 1% could be something as simple as making sure you show up on time for a team meeting, by leaving the house on time to get to the office in time by getting your clothes ready the night before. You turn up on time, and your team will get the message that they need to turn up on time too. Arrive late, and as the leader you're telling them it's OK for them to do that to.

So next time you're off out on a leadership run, work out what your equivalent of Petroleum Jelly is, and make sure you pack it. There could be 3 or 4 of them, but you need them or you'll not make it to the end of the journey.

Someone wrote a book about not worrying about the small stuff. In my opinion, it's all about the small stuff.

Happy running, and happy leading!

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QA Training | Andy-Kaye

Andy Kaye

Learning Programme Manager

Andy joined QA in October 2012. He is a Learning Programme Manager based in South Yorkshire. Andy worked for 24 years in the banking sector, including 18 years at Barclays and 6 years at Lloyds, where he was a Learning and Development Consultant in their Retail Learning Team. He is a certified facilitator of Situational Leadership II, Myers Briggs Type Indicators Step 1 and Strength Deployment Inventories. Andy has a total of 9 years of Learning and Development experience, using the full learning cycle.
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