by Rodney Johnson
I frequently cut out newspaper and magazine articles that possess a unique perspective on life or business. Several years ago, newspaper reporter Bruce Brothers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press interviewed a gritty Minnesota runner named Luther Thompson. Thompson, in his late 50s at the time, had been known to enter some of the most grueling running races in the world, including the Leadville 100, a hundred mile race across the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. When Brothers asked Thompson what his toughest race was, a totally unexpected answer emerged. Thompson simply replied, "The toughest race is always the race I’m doing, whether it’s a 5K or a marathon or an ultra marathon."
When I read that statement, I was awestruck by its simplicity and wisdom. Thompson was right. Even as business leaders, our toughest race tends to be the race we're running. This might be tackling a problem or pursuing an opportunity that is facing us. And it's how we work through these issues that will determine how we place in the race we refer to as business.
Twelve months ago, the toughest race for most businesses related to how to quickly transition away from growth, due to a sharp downturn in economic activity. Decisions had to be made to align with the new reality we call recession. Each decision held consequences and opportunities. Each positioned the business for success or failure.
Today, a similar toughest-race scenario is beginning to emerge. Suddenly, organizations in survival mode are being challenged with another transition. This transition is about how to grow once again. And this is the take-home point. I believe the toughest race for business leaders is to understand how to best lead through transitions. To lead through transitions effectively, one should:
1. Understand where you've been, and recognize where you're going.
2. Leverage talent, and keep them engaged and motivated.
3. Lead from a position of transparency and honesty.
4. Delve into the tough "what if" issues by asking the hard-hitting questions.
5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
In this latest transition, leaders can't afford to lose their nerve in moving forward. It's our responsibility to demystify the unknown, create clarity around what's really important and possess the confidence on how best to move forward. Only then can the toughest race become manageable and won.
Yes, the toughest race is always the race you're doing. Whatever you do, don't lose your nerve at the starting line, the place where races are won and lost.
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