In 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!