Something weirdly funny happened to me yesterday. As I’ve posted previously, I’ve been running for a little over a year, and yesterday was the day I decided to switch groups. I went from 2/1 group to 3/1 group (run for 3 minutes and walk for 1 minute). Before our long run (7 miles), I wanted to approach the new group leader and let her know that I was going to try my best but maybe my pace would not be as fast as others in the group. Before I found her, the running group coordinator approached me and told me group leader and coleader were both out this week and asked if I would be willing to lead the group.
“Lead the group?!” I thought. “I am unsure I’ll be able to survive today!” LOL I replied that I knew the route and because of my slower pace, I wasn’t sure about leading. However, I said, I would be willing to co-lead. I was glad someone else offered to lead the pace, even though he didn’t know the route. Perfect combination! After figuring out some running logistics, such as most scenic spot to take the official group photo, turnaround point, etc., we were off to “lead” the group. After all, that’s what our fearless leader would have wanted!
We managed to lead the group well to the midway point, and then came up with an easy return route so anyone who may have stayed behind, could safely get back to the starting point. At this moment other more experienced runners, who had stayed quiet originally when we needed a leader, took over. They ran ahead and kept the pace throughout the remainder of the run. Everyone finished the 7 mile training in good conditions and spirits, and I believe we all felt proud to have contributed to this unusual run.
I must admit that I felt a bit dejected for not having been able to complete the whole run in the leading group. However, I learned several valuable lessons about leadership. The first lesson is to have less expectations about how events will unfold and be open when they take a different turn. I never expected to be co-leading a running group on my first day! However, after the initial shock, I did not say no (although I wanted to!). I found support and went ahead and accepted the challenge.
Leadership does not mean that I am the best at something or know everything. It means influencing or guiding a group to accomplish a task. And there are many ways to accomplish the goal. My preferred way is to co-lead. This approach works well when the two leaders have complementary skills. In my running experience, for example, I knew the route and the other person knew the pace.
Another lesson is that leadership of a project can be shared among various people and at different stages. Someone can lead at the start, and someone else at intermediate point, and someone completely new can lead the final stretch. Some people are hesitant to be called leaders, even though they know how to do the project. They may feel uncomfortable about telling others what to do. But these people are key to the success of a task and can in time become great leaders in their own way.
After we had finished the run, someone came to me and told me that “I had led by example”. It felt amazing to know that! I firmly believe I should not ask anyone to do something that I am not willing to do myself. So, this approach to leadership resonates with me.
Another person told me after the run that they were impressed by my leading and that I should now train for a Marathon. You see, we are training for Half Marathon, which to me felt like a worthwhile goal. But now that someone planted that new seed in my mind, I think I could run a Marathon! Leading and being recognized and encouraged by others stretched my mindset.
My final lesson is that I shouldn’t take things too seriously. Why was I hesitant to lead a group or be called a leader? Was it because of insecurities? In this case, what’s the worst that could have happened? Ok, I finish the run in last place, or I don’t finish. Fine, so what? I am training for half (full) marathon, and that in itself is success. I should feel good that I tried to lead a group into getting in better shape, get closer to their goals, etc. On the other hand, what’s the best that could have happened? That you surprise yourself and do things that you did not expect. Go ahead and keep doing difficult things and surprising yourself!