Startup Leadership: Lessons From a Runner's World

Written by Adii Pienaar

Most of us with entrepreneurial drive have a similar passion for other pursuits. For me, it’s about long-distance running. For example, in a recent month I ran 120 kilometers (about 75 miles), including a half-marathon.

That’s a lot of time on the road — just me, some music, the sound of my (sometimes ragged) breathing, and most importantly, my thoughts.

Lately, I’ve used some of that time to think about the similarity between my progress as runner and how to apply that mindset in running a company. What did I conclude? Here six suggestions based on my experience:

1) Work only when you’re productive and focused

I used to motivate myself in a very threatening, reactive way. I would decide to run a half-marathon, and then “demand” (of myself) to run specific distances in specific times. Regardless or how I felt, I was “forced” to comply with those requirements.

Recently, I decided I wasn’t going to set a rigid, arbitrary goal of running in a specific half-marathon. Instead, I decided to run just because I love it.

Sometimes at the start of a run, I can feel that my body isn’t responding, or I’m just not in the right mental space. On those days, I cut the run short and go home. On the flip side, sometimes I plan to run 5km but end up running 10km instead, because I feel good. That’s double the return for “doubling down” on that good feeling.

Entrepreneurs are guilty of this. We force ourselves to work, even when we’re not being productive. Stop. Get up. Do something else that’s unrelated to work. But when you discover you are in the zone, double down and you’ll achieve much more, instead.

2) Avoid burnout

Earlier this year, I got greedy and, for about a week, I pushed myself too hard, aggravating an injury. Instead of just stopping, I kept pushing. The result was that I developed a severe case of shin splints that kept me out of running for two full months.

As entrepreneurs, we know how to push (hard), and we know how to use adrenaline to fuel us. However, burnout is a very real threat and should not be dismissed lightly. The problem with injury or burnout isn’t the pain; it’s the frustration. Once you’ve injured yourself, there are no more shortcuts. You have to do the time.

So don’t give burnout a chance to stop you in your tracks. Try getting eight hours of sleep a day. Eat nutritious foods. Exercise regularly and immerse yourself in non-work activities, too. All of this will help strengthen your entrepreneurial fitness, so you’ll have a consistently high level of ambition and drive.

3) Reward yourself

When I eventually recovered, I decided to get a weekly sports massage to help prevent shin splints from recurring. Although these treatments began as preventive work for my muscles, the pampering began to feel more like a reward. I loved this downtime, and it became a motivating factor for me to run even more.

The same is true with work. For me personally, money isn’t enough motivation to work harder or do more. But rewarding myself with experiences does work. On the expensive end of the scale, that translates into traveling as much as I can. But on a more regular basis, I reward myself with a bottle of fantastic red wine.

The key is to connect the dots between the work and the experience, knowing both need to be present to make that connection.

4) Nurture consistency

Running every-other day has become a routine for me. This consistency is one of the primary drivers behind my ability to run 120km in a month. Running has become a habit.

I’ve seen the same scenario with my inbox. All of us get a boatload of email, and it’s probably the number one complaint of busy people. But when I’m disciplined and consistently keep my inbox neat and clean, I avoid the problem. As soon as I lose that consistency, it becomes a mess.

As an entrepreneur, these habits are key to helping you get stuff done, stay focused on what matters, and keep moving forward. Consistency is your friend.

5) Shed excess weight

Running with excess weight is hard work. Now, I’m not obese, but you probably won’t see me on the cover of GQ, either. So about six weeks ago, I started the Paleo diet, and I’ve since decreased my body fat 5%. It makes running a lot easier.

In business and in work, excess weight can take many different shapes and forms. I used to take responsibility for things that either I didn’t need to do myself or weren’t important. I was really bad at prioritizing my time. Now I focus on the most important things every day. I get more done, and I am happier.

Shed the excess weight on your to do list. I guarantee that, afterwards, you’ll run easier.

6) Run your own race

While running my last race, I realized we’re always competing. We’re always measuring ourselves against other entrepreneurs and their companies. We read about how they do things, how they manage to be successful and how we should be applying all of those things to our own lives.

In fact, you’re doing that right now, but reading this post.

But this is your life. In every race, you can only run against yourself, and try to improve on your personal best. What the other runners (or business leaders) are doing shouldn’t influence the way you run your own race.

Do things for yourself — and rely upon your own instincts, for a more satisfying outcome. Be a little selfish every now and again, and remember to invest in yourself.

What are your thoughts? How can leaders apply athletic training principles to run their companies more effectively?

ce07b0f37a0fc570882f6337d7258d9f(About the Author: Adii Pienaar is the ex-CEO and Founder of WooThemes. He has a passion for helping other entrepreneurs, making new mistakes (of his own) and, as such, is working on his new startup, PublicBeta. He is also a new dad, ex-rockstar and wannabe angel investor.)

(Editor’s Note: This post was adapted from Brazen Life via The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), with permission. Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, it offers edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work. Be Brazen!)

(Also Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

Image Credit: Neerav Bhatt via Flickr

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