Creating A Chapter In People’s Lives

In 2011, I traveled to Winnipeg, MB in central Canada to do a speaking engagement for a non profit group.  The guy who invited me to speak was Albert Martens, a local philanthropist from Winnipeg.  Albert was also a very accomplished marathon runner, having logged hundreds of marathons in countries around the world.  I told Albert that we should do an impromptu marathon the day before I spoke.  Albert arranged a 26.2 mile run for 5 of us including myself.  The temperature on the morning we ran was a balmy -32c, which for us Americans is -26f.

On our run, I got into a discussion with one of the five runners.  HIs name was Matt Duhane, a local Canadian bush pilot who flew people into very remote places in the Canadian north.  Being a fan of cold weather and out of the way places, I asked Matt a lot of questions about his work.  I then got a wild idea to see if he could get us a plane into a place called Churchill, which is known as the Polar Bear capital of the world.  It is located about 750 miles north of Winnipeg on the western shore of Hudson Bay.  My idea was for a group of us to venture to Churchill in the winter with the intent to run a full marathon and see Polar Bears in the wild.  I called it the Polar Bear Marathon.  Matt said he would work with me, and so Albert, Matt and I gave birth to a Polar Bear Marathon.

Two years later, November 20, 2012, fourteen of us ventured to Churchill to take place in the first ever Polar Bear marathon.  Albert did a remarkable job of contacting people in Churchill to provide vehicle support, medical help if needed and most importantly, Polar Bear escorting.  Polar Bears are the only known animal on earth that will instinctively attack man for no reason.  Having bear chaperones was a must, especially in light of the fact that we were coming in at the end of Polar Bear migration season in Churchill.  The chances we would run into a bear or two was pretty good.The weather on this day was very favorable, as the temperature was 4 degrees at start with very little wind.  We had runners from Canada, the US and two from Germany.  Our trip was photo documented by Birgit Duval, a German blogger and photo journalist.  Her work can be found here: http://www.takkiwrites.com/churchill-der-tag-nach-dem-marathon/.  Although we were spread out, all the runners had a great day and found there way back to town, completing the 26.2 miles.  Albert and I brought up the rear of the pack, finishing in about 6.5 hours.  We did not care about time.  It was about the accomplishment and the relationships we made with each other.As I was on the plane back to Winnipeg, I thought to myself, “this is not just a marathon.  It was a chapter in the lives of all 14 of us.  We partook in something that had never existed.  We inspired a northern Canadian town like they had never seen.  The mayor of Churchill came out to support us.  Two of the runners had never run a marathon before and were inspired to do so when they heard about what we had planned.  It was so much more than just another marathon.  It was an example of creating something that did not exist, using creativity and planning like we had never done.Transposing this on the world of business, this is exactly what great employees are looking for.  They want their boss, manager or leader to be someone who inspires them to be more creative, take chances and use their skills in ways that they never have had to.  As a leader or manger, let me ask you this: Thinking of the people you are responsible for, are you creating chapters in the book of their lives?  Are you inspiring them to use their skills and talents in new ways that fully employes them?  This is what top performing people want.  If they don’t experience this under your watch, they will very likely find someone else to work for.

Leadership Lessons From Today’s Polar Bear Marathon

Today was a historic day for the 900 residents of Churchill, Canada, and especially for the 13 marathoners who took part in todays first ever Polar Bear Marathon.  We left for the event at 7:30am, while Churchill was still dark due to how far north it is.  As we ran, many of the runners got split up.  I happened to run in the rear of the pack with Albert Martens, who organized today’s event.  Albert is a great friend of mine from Winnipeg and he has logged over 1 million running miles in his 32 year running career.

What was so unique about today’s event was how much I paid attention to not only what was ahead of me, but I was constantly thinking about and looking in my periphery and behind me.  Polar Bears are everywhere in Churchill, and we ran a marathon right through their home.  Never before in any marathon or training run was I so cognizant of what was all around me, all 360 degrees.

Then I thought to myself, “this is how great leaders look at their organization.  You not only have to pay attention to what is in front of you as you drive the business forward, but too few leaders can do this and still pay careful attention to what is all around them and behind them.  What do I mean behind them?  What about the employees who are far removed from the C-Level leaders?  Are those leaders making efforts to know what is going on with the front line people, some of who may be removed many layers down?  Do they really know what is going on in the worlds of their front line mangers, some who may be very removed from the day to day activities of the C-level people?

What about customers?  Many C-level leaders and CEO’s are tuned in to what is going on with their biggest and best customers.  Are they tuned in to what is going on with what I call the “up and down the street customers?” Those customers who are small, don’t order that often or don’t carry a big name?  Paying attention to those customers while driving the business forward is critical.  How do you know know when one of those “little customers” won’t lead you to your next big account?  For many businesses, they don’t because these “little customers” feel neglected, and rightly so.

In conclusion, what I experienced today in the Polar Bear marathon taught me the importance of not only driving ahead in my business, but the importance of constantly watching and being aware of what is ahead of me, in my periphery and what is behind me.  Every single employee and customer must be watched and taken care of.  Great leaders find a way to do this.  Unfortunately many don’t understand this.

I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions

 

Mike

 

Leadership Lessons The First Ever “Polar Bear Marathon” in Churchill, MB

I’m sitting in my room at the Tundra Inn located on the shores of Hudson Bay located in Churchill, Manitoba.  Churchill is located about 800 miles north of Winnipeg and is the Polar Bear capital of the world.  Myself and 13 other runners will take part tomorrow in the first ever “Polar Bear Marathon.”  The 900 residents of Churchill are quite intrigued, as there has never been a winter marathon here before.  How this came about is why I’m writing this blog because there are a ton of lessons for leaders and business people.

 

The Frozen Shores of Hudson Bay, Churchill, MB

Two years ago, while speaking at a business conference in Winnipeg, I organized an impromptu marathon with four other local runners, all from Winnipeg.  The day we ran it was -32C, which for us in the US, is -26F.  That was the actual temperature, without factoring in wind.  Even for the Canadians, it was cold.  One of the runners, a guy named Matt, is a bush pilot for a Canadian company.  Matt and I ran much of the marathon together.  I asked him if he could get us a charter plane in the winter to Churchill.  He said he could and asked what I was thinking.  I told him that my dream would be to run a winter marathon in Churchill, with the expectation to see Polar Bears in the wild.  He thought I was crazy, but I was not kidding.  Two years later, here we are on the eve of the first ever Polar Bear Marathon.  People are amazed that we are doing this and wonder what is inside people’s minds who think of things like this and feed on such difficulty.

 

How does this story apply to the real world?  There are three things that come to mind when I think of what I’m doing here in Churchill.

1. Creative Thinking

2. Self-Confidence

3. Risk Taking

 

In a business world that is competitive and an economy that is weak and unstable, creativity is a must have.  People continuously have to reinvent themselves, their services and the value that they bring to the table.  Expecting to run with what has always has worked in the past will leave you far behind very quickly.  Creating an environment in your business to foster people’s creativity is a must.  What do you need to change in your company’s culture to promote more creative ideas and thinking from you people?

 

Second, self-confidence must be strengthened.  As I started to run marathons in some of the coldest and harshest climates on earth, I realized that more of my success would come from my mind being strong and not just my body.  The same applies to people in the workplace.  Skills and certain job functions are important, but one of the weakest muscles in the body of most working employees is the muscle of self-confidence.  As a leader, what do you need to do differently to help you people become more confident?

 

Lastly, those who will get ahead and stay ahead take risks.  I’m not talking about being foolish or taking blind chances.  I’m talking about increasing your ability to take calculated risks.  What new services can you create in your industry?  What problems has no company in your industry ever been able to solve for a customer?  Why can’t your employees add new dimensions to their roles, incorporating more of their passions, talents and interests to become more engaged in what they do everyday?  As a leader, what can you do differently to allow this to happen.

 

In conclusion, as I sit here in Churchill and think about what I’ve learned to this point over the last two years as we put the Polar Bear Marathon together, I’ve seen so much that is transferable to the real world to help people learn to become more successful.  Creative thinking, strengthening the muscle of self-confidence and taking more risks have led 14 of us to this place.  It is those same ingredients that lead anyone to more success in their world.

 

I welcome your comments, feedback and inquires.

 

Antarctic Mike

 

 

What is YOUR definition of a Gold Medal?

gold medalIn January, 2006, I returned from my first of two trips to the Antarctic.  Myself and nine others from around the world had just completed the first ever Antarctic Ice Marathon.  It was a full 26.2 mile run on an ice shelf, 600 miles from the South Pole.  One of the first questions someone asked me upon my return to San Diego was this:

“What was your time?”

I looked at him and paused.  I said, “Time?  You realize I lived in a commercial freezer for 10 months to train for this and went half way to the moon to run the race? Time?”

The knee jerk reaction question that most runners hear from others when they complete a race is “How did you do?” meaning, “What was your time?”  This is very common.  The truth of the matter is that I did not care about time.  I did not go to the Antarctic to run for time, to win or anything close to this.  I ran in Antarctica to follow in the footsteps of my heroes who first discovered Antarctica 100 years ago.  Then I thought about some of the other runners there.  Two of them came for one reason: to win.  They did not care about time, but only to be the first to cross the finish line.  We had a couple of others in our group who just wanted to better their personal time.  They did not care about winning or losing.  Just a particular time that was important to them.

If I had hired you as my coach to condition me for this marathon, and you assumed that my goal was to win the race or run for a particular time, and structured everything in my training program according to this, you would have been a terrible coach.  Why do I say this?  Because you assumed that my definition of a gold medal was to win or run a particular time, and your assumption was wrong.  How motivated do you think I’d be while training if you’re trying to appeal to my desire to win or run a particular time, if in fact I had not interest in this?  You already know the answer to this.

Now let’s transpose this thinking to the world of business.  If you lead a team, and let’s say you have 5 people who report to you on your team.  Let’s also assume that all five people play the same role.  We know that all five people are running toward the same finish line, meaning specific goals set by the company.  Metaphorically, all five are running their marathon toward the goal of crossing the 26.2 mile finish line.  However, if you really knew your people and did what I call “manage the whole person” and not just the employee, you would likely discover that all five people define their gold medal differently.  A successful leader understands this and manages them and their activity in light of how the employee defines their gold medal, not how the company or manger does.

When it comes time for that employee to really push themselves and give extra effort to get the job done, don’t you think they will be much more likely to do so if they see the work in light of what’s really important to them and not just what’s important to the company?  Try it for yourself and see.  Your ability to increase people’s levels of engagement on the job will go up significantly.

I welcome your comments and feedback.  Thanks!

Antarctic Mike