Executive Exercising

I was taking an early morning walk along the northwest shore of Lake Ontario in Toronto a few weeks ago, where sidewalk sausage carts open at 6 AM for those with early appointments and strong stomachs. The sun was just up, but I was hardly alone.  The sidewalk was replete with solitary walkers and joggers... 20-something women with no trace of body fat, and 80 year old men hoofing it in old-style sneakers, breathing in the lake air punctuated by the pungent smell of mustard and onions.

I was sleepy, so it barely registered when three runners clipped toward me at slightly faster pace and waved.  They called out. Then their faces came into focus.  It was two members of our Bates team, along with an executive who was attending our Speak Like a CEO Boot Camp. They smiled as they glided past the yachts and tall ships in the marina, arms pumping away, dewy and invigorated.

They looked so alive. I couldn't help being struck. Normally I would have been running, too. But I had decided that morning that I was too tired, that walking was good enough.  After the previous day on my feet for 10 hours and a fitful night of sleep at the hotel, NIMOB (not in my own bed), I felt justified ...taking it easy.  "Hey!!!" they cried as they cruised by, all smiles. "See you in a bit!"

In the quiet after their energy wave passed me I thought, "This isn't really doing it for me."  I wasn't feeling any more energetic, but I was missing that sensation...when your heart is beating and your body is in full out motion. I accelerated to a brisker speed, and finished strong, about 2.5 miles.  After showering and dressing I felt revived and ready for a second demanding day.

It is interesting how this dynamic works in organizations, too. There are people in your business who set a pace; they run at a faster clip. When you have few of these pace setters, other people notice and without even thinking, begin to change their own behavior. It's as if they think, "Oh, okay, I see. It is possible to raise your game around here.  I get it. If they can do it, so can I."

Perhaps it is only competition. My view is, it's something more. Call it mutual inspiration.  I really didn't feel competitive with Scott, Elizabeth or Chris. No one knew or cared whether I walked the rest of they way, or not.  But they reminded me how exhilarated I feel when I raise my own physical game. 

People who set a pace are able to ignite the best in everyone around them. This explains why some teams and some companies outpace the rest. In the world of business, it is important to understand how to create an environment where your star players simply inspire others to put the pedal to the metal. When you foster that, you see how these performers can carry the whole team forward. They accelerate organizational performance. There is nothing so inspiring as watching those pace setters glide along and move everybody to strive for their own personal best.

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