Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Weight loss, Running, and Leadership

Before (March 2019) & After (March 2020)
A more personal story for today's post...

If you follow me via twitter or the Book of Faces, you'll have heard this story. For everyone else, tl;dr - in the past year, I've lost over 140 lbs. But that's not the whole story.

The real story is that in 2009 I started my weight loss journey and was able to lose 80 lbs in 2010/2011 the "traditional" way. For the next ten years, I tried to keep off the weight but slowly saw hills and valleys of regaining. In 2016 I had some medical issues that compounded and cascaded into serious health issues by the end of 2018. So in 2019 (after a rigorous vetting process), I had weight loss surgery, and now here I am.

Medals & Bibs
Parallel to my weight loss journey is my "running journey." I've always been an athlete in my youth, but never a runner. Starting in 2010, I trained up using the Couch to 5K method and participated in countless 5Ks, two half-marathons, sprint triathlons, and more. I loved running. But as my weight gained and my health declined, I had to give up running. Fast forward to this past winter, I've restarted running, just completing the Couch to 5K program and starting on the 5K to 10K program to increase distance and speed. My stamina, strength, and durability have improved, and I'm once again enjoying the freedom and joy that running gives me.

So what does any of this have to do with leadership?

For those who've never heard my story, never been a part of the journey, didn't witness my transition - you didn't see the struggle. You didn't get the opportunity to watch as I physically and (I'd argue more importantly) mentally changed to this new way of thinking and living. People may only see the outcome, the product of the labor - and not the moments I chose to stay focused, committed to my weight loss plan and running schedule. We always run the risk of seeing the results without reflecting on the precursory work. So I feel it's important to share my journey and how I've reflected on it.

While I was running, it had me thinking - which is where I do my best thinking. Many of the qualities or abilities or (to use HR terms) competencies that I used in this journey reflect the same skills we require for leadership. Let's go through them:
  1. Leaders need to be resilient. My goals started over ten years ago, and they had twists and turns and ups and downs, but it required flexibility in both my objectives and performance. I had to ask myself tough questions like "Am I doing this right?" or "Should I change my methods?" But above all, I remained adaptable. When I hit roadblocks like weight plateaus or slow pacing, I allowed myself the moment of disappointment, but then focused on how I can improve for next time. It's about bouncing back when you get knocked down.
  2. Leaders need to be dedicated to their goals. When I was first married, with a newborn at home, and a young new manager, I made a promise to myself that I would hit three goals. 1) Go back to school and finish my undergraduate degree. 2) Be the best mom and wife I could. 3) Lose the weight I'd gained. I'm currently in a masters program, I've successfully raised a human being who (despite temporarily home) has launched in their college career. And I'm married these 20 years now. So this last goal was the ultimate in a trifecta that I couldn't give up, which is why resiliency is so vitally important. A leader's goal(s) needs to be well-developed and adaptable enough to allow for flexibility. It requires cultivating critical thinking skills and strategic planning into your everyday mindset. Creating goals that are too narrow or strict, then you're setup for failure. Mine was straightforward and didn't require contingencies. Moreover, I created spreadsheets, researched, and dug deep into weight loss plans and running methods, so I knew my goals were challenging but reasonable.
  3. Leaders need to practice visualization. I practice this a ton in running. "Just get to the end of the corner" or "One more minute" If you read up on Olympians you'll inevitably hear about how they visualize themselves completing their goals, or standing on the medal platform. There's research behind making our brains paint a picture of where we will be - it builds self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that we can complete the task, ergo the more we can see ourselves at the proverbial finish line, the higher the trust and thus the motivation. To visualize the previously mentioned goal needs to be clear and focused. Easy to understand and something we can see ourselves doing. And then broken down in the smaller bite-size visualizations that help us to get to the next goal.
  4. Leaders need to have conviction in their abilities. Connected to the idea of self-efficacy (again, that belief that you can "do the thing") Leaders have to have the courage and confidence in their abilities to reach their goals. It isn't always easy, and self-doubt is still an option. But above all, leaders must provide a sense of trust that through it all - we'll hit this goal. This self-assurance helps them to overcome the obstacles and to persuade those around them that even when the chips are down, we have faith we'll get through it.
  5. Leaders need passion.By nature, I'm an optimistic, animated high energy person - so passion isn't a problem for me when I'm excited about something. I'm House Slytherin, which means I have ambition in droves. But if you think of any charismatic leaders you've worked with or for, they have a knack for being a catalyst for generating enthusiasm. They speak in an active voice, use emphasis when they're talking about their goals and plans, and are visually animated. They tap into emotions and create bonds and relationships that inspire others. This enthusiasm is contagious! Combine passion with vision, and you have a 1-2 punch of a charismatic leader who, given clear goals and the right culture, can be massively influential. I became (and still am) passionate about my weight loss journey and running goals, and I share my experience, hopes, and short-comings with others to inspire (which also motivates me!).
  6. Leaders need to be mindful. On the opposite end, leaders are self-aware and ambitious, but they also have to be self-aware enough to know their limitations and where they need help. Humility goes a long way in leadership, especially when it's shared with the team. On many occasions, I found myself needing guidance, asking others about their experience with weight loss or running. I asked for help. And I gave in to the feeling of vulnerability or exposure. But in doing so, I found so many who reflected, "I feel the same way!" or "I'm so glad you shared this..." When we're mindful and share that mindfulness with others, great things happen.
So there you have it. Lessons I've learned (or more aptly put - that were reinforced) from my physical journey. How have you learned leadership lessons in your life? What other leadership qualities do you think I'm missing? Comment below! 

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