My hometown is the midway point of the Boston Marathon, affording us the opportunity to walk just a few blocks to position ourselves for a fantastic view of the race every year. Unlike any other sporting event, at a marathon, you can choose your spot, stand or bring a chair, and without purchasing a ticket, revel in a gorgeous spring day and the amazing effort of so many thousands of athletes, all running for their own reasons.
Though you have to admire the elite runners, those perfect lean bodies and the grace of their strides, in my view, that part of the race isn't the best. The best part is watching your average weekend runner jog along with arms pumping, sweating, grimacing and occasionally smiling as people shout "You can do it!" or "Keep going" or "Go Heidi" or "Yea Harvard!" (Veteran runners know if they write their names on their shirts, or wear school t-shirts, people will call out their names or the names of their colleges).
This Boston Marathon was incredibly special for all the reasons that have been covered by media around the world. We took back our city, we defied hatred, we are Boston Strong. Crowds turned out in near-record numbers, course records were broken, and the city's spirits soared. You couldn't watch the finish line on TV without tears in your eyes. Still, my thoughts return not to the finish, but to the middle, where I stood.
There is something intriguing about being in the middle of anything, really. The middle of a project; the middle of a challenge; the middle of your plan for the year. When things look bleak or unlikely, we don't usually have a crowd cheering us on. But we should. At the halfway point the excitement of the project is wearing off. Your legs are tiring, you're dehydrated, dispirited, and doubt is creeping in. How will you keep going? How will you ever make it to the finish?
If you had people cheering you on in the middle, how would it change your race? Even a modicum of crowd support would be enough to recharge your spirits and inspire you to recommit. Imagine if the crowd was calling out your name! It would be enough to reignite that belief you had at the start - the faith that made you run - that made you think "I can do it."
As leaders, we can be that crowd, clapping and praising the effort of our teams. We can be the person on the street, cheering people on. All it takes is a little compassion. You know yourself what it's like to be in the middle. An expression of encouragement is often all that's needed to inspire people to go the distance. The finish line is a thrill but the middle is the place to express our appreciation. Here's to the leader who stands on the sideline, celebrating the effort.