Recently I decided to stretch my athletic abilities and add a running program to my regular exercise routine. Although I had tried to run in the past, my level of success was pretty pathetic. This time, however, I decided to follow my own advice and find some expert runners who could teach me how to run. And that is exactly what I did.
Our local roadrunner's organization was about to begin a running clinic for inexperienced runners. I immediately signed up for the program. During the second class, we were asked to run one mile at our top speed. What I lack in skill and endurance, I make up for in competitiveness, so I clocked in a mile at 9:28 (9 minutes and 28 seconds). While this may seem paltry for an experienced runner, I can assure you that it was a major accomplishment for me. During this speed test, I began to see outstanding leadership qualities of one of my coaches emerge. Vera, one of the trainers, was absolutely thrilled with my time. She told me what a wonderful time it was for someone so new to running. I started to think that maybe I could finally learn to run after all.
Almost two weeks later, I had a major lapse in judgment and signed up for a 5K (3.1 mile race). Now remember, I had just started running 3 1/2 weeks before and here I was ready to compete with 1,100 runners, some of whom could run a 5K in between commercials (not quite, but they were very fast).
When I arrived at the race, I saw Vera at the registration desk and went over to her. "Vera," I said, "I don't know how to run a race. What do I do?" She looked up at me with a big smile and said, "You ran a 9:28 as your fast mile. Just aim for a 10 minute pace for the first mile and you'll be fine." I walked away thinking that she had totally lost her mind. I couldn't possibly sustain a 10-minute per mile pace for 3 miles. The best I had been able to do was just over 11 minutes per mile.
I ran the race, running part of the way, walking part of the way, huffing and puffing most of the way, and wondering what I was doing there when I could be home sitting on the couch watching TV. A short while after the race ended, I discovered my time. I had run at a pace of 9:55 (9 minutes and 55 seconds) per mile. I couldn't wait to share my success with Vera.
At the next class, I told Vera my time and she was delighted. "That's wonderful," she said, again with a huge smile and total conviction. "You'll definitely be able to get down to an 8 minute mile." An 8-minute mile? At this point, I can't even imagine running 5 miles without having to walk. However, Vera is an expert and if she thinks I can, maybe I can.
Vera believed in me. While I didn't believe that I could live up to Vera's expectation of an 8 minute mile, I was willing to borrow her belief in me and continue to try to get my endurance up and my time down. As I struggled to run and breathe at the same time, wanting to quit more than once, I repeated to myself, "Vera says I can do an 8 minute mile." This kept my motivation in gear and my feet in motion, even when I wanted to chuck the whole idea of becoming a runner.
You can use Vera's leadership strategy to get your team and other people in your life to strive for better performance.
SET A HIGHER GOAL
Look at where your team member is currently performing and set a higher goal. Make sure the goal is realistic for that individual. It must be something that you believe he or she can achieve. If, after I ran a 9:28 mile, Vera told me that I could run a 5-minute mile, I never would have believed her. She gave me a goal that she believed was possible for me, and since it was not that far away from what I had already done, it seemed that if I put forth the effort then I could achieve it.
COMMUNICATE YOUR EXPECTATION
Let the person know what your expectation is of him or her. Too often, people underestimate their own abilities. However, there is a part of them that would like to believe they could do better. People usually meet the expectations that others have of them. Let your team members borrow your faith in them, while they might not yet have enough faith in their own abilities.
BE A CHEERLEADER
Things don't always go smoothly when people try to achieve something and there is a strong tendency to get discouraged and give up. That's when you must encourage your team to keep on trying. Again, communicate your faith in their ability to succeed. When I complained to Vera that I was still having a hard time breathing during my runs, she told me not to worry, that I would get there if I kept up with my workouts. Your consistent positive attitude is a critical to your team's success.
CARE ABOUT YOUR TEAM
The bottom line that makes this entire strategy work is that you must genuinely care about your team members. Make them feel special. When Vera told me the exact time of my fast run, I was shocked that she remembered it without looking at her notes. This made me feel that she really cared about me and I began to trust her more. If your team doesn't trust you, they will perceive everything that you say and do as manipulation. When they know that you value them, they will gladly let you lead them to greater accomplishments.
Follow this strategy with your team and watch their performance soar. As for me, I still don't know if I'll ever be able to run an 8-minute mile. Vera thinks I can, so I'll continue to practice even when I feel like quitting, and hopefully, one day I'll live up to her expectation of me.
Della Menechella is a speaker, author, and trainer who helps organizations achieve greater success by improving the performance of their people. She is a contributing author to Thriving in the Midst of Change and the author of the videotape The Twelve Commandments of Goal Setting. She can be reached at [email protected]. Subscribe to free Peak Performance Pointers e-zine - send blank e-mail to [email protected].