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CIO Unplugged – 3/1/08

March 1, 2008 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

Chief Ironman Officer Update: Leadership Lessons Learned from Champions
By Ed Marx

At the time of this post, I am 30 days out from my Ironman. I am a mix of nerves, enthusiasm and fear. Am I fit enough? Have I trained enough? What if I get injured before race day? What if I miss the swim cutoff time? (I’m a snail swimmer.) What if I flat more than twice? What if…

…And why am I doing this?

Ah yes, now I remember. It’s not about me. This Ironman race is about something much bigger than myself. See 01/02/2008 post.

To facilitate my training and to familiarize myself with the racecourse, I recently attended a “multisport” camp. The camp was run by former professional athletes who have organized many Ironman events. One of them, Paula Newby-Fraser, had won 26 Ironman titles including eight world championships. To this day, Paula has recorded the fastest finish among women. My first day at camp, I ran a warm-up 5K with her and gleaned all the wisdom possible regarding the course, the Ironman and running in general.

After an initial day of a short run, a short bike, and a long swim, we settled down for a hearty dinner. Camp leaders announced the cycling ride groups for the next day, which were formed based upon predicted finish times. I was selected to be in the fastest group led by the #1 ranked woman Ironman in the world. Fear struck me like a bolt of lightning, and I considered putting myself in a slower group. Michellie Jones, Miss #1 Ironman (my assigned group leader), happened to be sitting across from me at dinner. I promptly confessed, “I can probably hold my own at 20mph for five hours, but that’s my max.”

She no doubt heard the fear in my voice, yet still replied, “You’ll be fine with that.”

I didn’t believe her.

She added, “I like to start off slow and finish fast.”

God save me!

Apprehensive about the ride, I woke up three times that night. I wanted to drop to a slower group, and yet I couldn’t shrink from the challenge. Finally, I decided if I got dropped I’d just slow down and wait for the other ride groups to catch up.

That sounded like a reasonable backup plan until my ride group gathered that morning. Of the 10 riders, five were professionals; of the other five — mortals like myself — I was the only virgin Ironman. Talk about a clay blob among marble statues. Their bikes and aerodynamic outfits were three times as costly as mine was, and I was the only soft body amongst hard bodies. This was going to be a long day.

We set off at a blistering 26mph pace. Despite a fitful sleep, I had fairly fresh legs and was able to stay steady for the first 40 miles. In search of hills, we headed off the Ironman course and found some rollers with lengthy inclines. We had already lost two mortals; I was determined not to be the third. I was sixth in the draft line, and I noticed the cyclist in front of me falling off the pace, which meant I was falling off the peloton as well. At first, it was just a couple yards, but that stretched to ten yards, and I knew we were in trouble. We wouldn’t be able to push back up to the pack.

Lesson number one: Be sure the person you are following has the vision and stamina to keep you on the straight and narrow. “Followership” is a critical talent for survival.

The turnaround point for our hill excursion was coming up, and I managed to get back in the line. I understood clearly that the key to my survival was drafting closely, if not right behind the leader, in this case Michellie, Miss #1. I stayed slightly to her left with my front wheel overlapping her rear wheel by an inch or two. I drafted well, and during this stretch, at about 28mph, I was smiling, having the ride of my life. I was drafting behind the world’s best! My legs felt fresh again, and my confidence reawakened. About mile 80, we started to hit a gradual incline. As the last surviving mortal, I slipped to third position, then fourth, and was soon passed by the peloton. Heading up the incline, they stayed steady at 25mph, but I was too far off to draft. I ended up facing the wind resistance alone. Despite increased physical effort and motivation, my speed dropped to 18mph. I was alone in the desert. I could do nothing in my own power to reach them.

Lesson number two: Riding in a pack you can gain 40 percent efficiencies over riding alone. Teams can accomplish more. Pushing and pulling together, a team outperforms the loner every time.

A few miles down the road, I was saved by the refueling vehicle that carried extra drinks and food. As we resumed, I took 2nd position behind Michellie and did not let go. I was smiling again. No more inclines, all flat terrain. The closer together we rode in the peloton, the greater the “eddie” we produced, which helped propel Michellie forward. A truly symbiotic endeavor. As we reached the 90th mile, however, I was riding on empty, and Michellie razzed me for the umpteenth time about inadequate hydration. She made me a concoction out of two of her bottles, and we finished in a flourish. By the time we coasted into the finish lot, I was cracking up. I had just ridden over 100 miles with the Michellie Jones. And this woman led no patsy ride!

Lesson number three: Sometimes it takes sheer grit and hunger, but you can push yourself to do amazing things. Test your boundaries, then break through and grow to the next level. Just do it!

Throughout the camp, someone kept saying, “It’s about performance, baby!” One definition of performance: the efficiency with which something fulfills its intended purpose.

Last year’s trophy looks nice on the shelf. I have a few of my own, including work-related awards. But their beauty is fleeting. Their intended purpose has stagnated. Sitting back and bragging about yesteryear’s accomplishments is fruitless, inefficient. At some point, the past no longer matters. It is about what you’re going to do in the next race. Sponsors aren’t seeking out racers because they were yesterday’s champ or because they’d been doing Ironman for 20 years. They’re searching for the continuous quality, or excellence, of a racer — the guy who keeps pushing himself to perform and improve. The same should hold true in our health care careers.

Lesson number 4: You can coast for only so long in the draft of a trophy, but when you cease pedaling, you will fall over.

I’ll wrap this up with bullets of wisdom gleaned from champions:

· Teamwork

· Followership

· Sheer grit

· Breakthrough

· Performance

· Even gifted leaders need a coach

See you at the finish line!

Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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