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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Chasing Mercury … Leading with Excellence
Each year, I participate in a couple of dozen races. Everything from 5K runs to complex endeavors like Ironman, Spartan Beast or Escape from Alcatraz. I train like I race; I work like I live—purposeful, intending to win.
I don’t like losing. Although I enter races knowing my podium chances are slim, I still race to win. I push as hard as I can.
What hurts more than losing is missing the podium by one athlete. Fourth-place finishes kill me. I can recall every race where I lost because I gave up the will to win or I compromised my performance.
Heading into this year’s Thanksgiving Day half-marathon, I wasn’t about to take another fourth-place slot. As we assembled at the starting line, I saw a man with the wings of Mercury tattooed on his ankles. I figured if I followed on his heels, I’d have a chance for the podium. I chased Mercury for much of the race.
During athletic events, my body talks. Loudly. A fast heartbeat. Strenuous breaths. Muscles strain. Then my mind takes over and makes up appealing excuses. If I heeded my body’s instinctive impulses, I’d stop. I’d hop on the couch, turn on Netflix, and throw down a beer.
Of course, I don’t stop. Instead I start to justify the very behavior I loathe. I slow down or walk. Worse, I become delusional in believing that the lead I built early in the race gives me the right to go on cruise control. Why push harder if I’m already ahead? Does it really matter as long as I finish? Nobody else is working hard, and they are doing just fine. Who would know?
This same digressive situation manifests in the workplace.
Come on, we all wonder how those leaders we consider inept got into their positions in the first place. The Peter Principle explains some, but not all. So what happened to the others? You gotta figure they performed with excellence at one time, but then something changed. Did the energy and passion drain? Perhaps they lost focus. How did the clarity that once existed vanish?
Somewhere along the trail, rationalization turned intolerable excuses into tolerable performance. Many leaders finish the race, but few do so with excellence. I fear embracing the fourth-place mindset in my work.
At Mile 5, with Mercury in sight, I felt strong. But my body was already trash-talking me. I ignored the impulses and stayed focused. At the turnaround point, I could tell I was in the top six, but I had the chase group on my heels.
I thought about those fourth-place finishes and what it would take to stay in the lead pack—a resolve to win. I shunned the mind games and pushed towards the finish. In the last two miles, a few passed me, but I still saw Mercury. I set a personal record for the half-marathon and finished first in my age group.
True leaders don’t give into complacency or entitlement, no matter their age, status, or tenure. Yesterday’s performance made you the CIO, but it won’t make you a podium finisher without an unrelenting resolve to win. Leaders push for the gold, bringing out the best in themselves and in others.
Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this 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.