Beating the 4 Enemies of Endurance

I just completed my first half-ironman race: a 1.2 mile swim, then a 56 mile bike ride followed by a 13.1 mile run. In looking back at how I’ve endured the training and the race, I see that there were 4 enemies I had to overcome to succeed. These enemies are no different than the ones we face when working to endure the pain of organizational change. Change these days is an endurance game. My 2011 research shows 81% of people globally are involved in more than 3 change efforts simultaneously. And there is no sign of it letting up. To succeed in such an environment, employees need endurance.

1) Beware of the Dream
– All change begins with a dream of something better. For me it was as simple and self-centered as "I’ve done 2 small triathlons. Wouldn’t it be great if I can complete a ½ ironman? I would get so fit and maybe even get six pack abs. " This vision/stretch assignment/ big audacious hairy goal– whatever you call it- is actually your first enemy.

I am not saying don’t dream. I am just saying that be aware that with any change effort, at work or home, the dream is just a Hollywood version of reality. For example, I have been called in many times to help leaders improve results. They want their division to be taking more initiative or be more empowered. This is great idea- who would argue with it - but very often they minimize the amount of work it will take to achieve it. Just like I did when I dreamed of a ½ ironman.

2) Get ready for a major crisis
– So I am swimming in the lake this summer and it hits me. "Am I crazy? I don’t think I will make it- it will take me close to 7 hours. I am not that fit." Around the same time my wife told me I needed to get an EKG, and that she didn’t think I would make it.

When you set a big goal for improvement, you will face a crisis. You will question your sanity. You will wonder if you bit off more than you could chew. And so with others. The same thing happens with our clients. They ask for the big improvement, and we end up in a conference room with someone yelling or crying (and it is not me!) because the pain of the change seems too much.

If this is happening to you, this is good news! Good news because you are on the brink of major progress. Change fails for many reasons, one of which is that leaders back down at this point and give in to theirs and other negativity. This is the point when you need to push just a little harder.

3) There is no try
– Yoda had it right. At some point you need to completely wholeheartedly commit to success. Employees can smell lack of commitment. Some of them will hold on to the old process as long as they can until they not there is no other option but to yield (or to quit or get themselves fired). Once I committed to this race, it was funny how help arrived. I remembered a friend who had done 2 ironman’s, and he became my coach. My web guy, a weightlifter and fanatic exerciser, became someone to share stories and discuss calorie intake. And suddenly, my wife’s attitude completely changed. When she saw me increase my workouts, she stated telling me that I would do great and even laid out how I should create a plan to do the full ironman for my 50thbirthday!

4) One foot in front of the other
– I trained. I planned. I prepared. Then it was race week.

On Wednesday I started to feel sick. There was no way I could do the race. Did I have the flu like my web-guy? Did I catch Antoine’s cold he had told me about the day before? I was completely panicked. I didn’t plan for this! Miraculously, after implementing every home remedy I have ever used, and the constant encouragement and support of my wife (who was now my biggest cheerleader), I woke up race day at 4:30 A.M. feeling fine

At the time, I kept thinking about the many "go live" weeks I have been involved with. The excitement. The panic. Will the system work? Will employees know what to do? Will the data be lost?

I have led enough people though change that I know the steps we have to go through. So when employees are complaining, the leader is freaking out or the worst case scenario is happening, I know you just have to put one foot in front of the other. It was the same exact thing three days before the race.

At 6:40 am I was in the water navigating bodies and buoys. At 7:35 am I hopped on the bike to the cheers of my family. At 11:15 am, I ran my first steps quite fatigued but my wife’s enthusiasm, my daughter’s smile and my son’s hug kept me going. Mile 5 was when my knee started to hurt. At 6.5 miles I wasn’t sure if I would make it. At mile, 8 I was in tears on the side of the road (this time I was the one crying!) in pain. I stretched, I prayed, I hobbled. I said out loud "There is NO way I am not finishing this race!" Then, I realized I could just put one foot in front of the other. I race walked the last 4.5 miles. I wasn’t alone. I was happy to see there were plenty of others exhausted or injured enduring along with me. We smiled to each other knowing that we were crazy, but we would finish!

None of this went how I dreamed it. It wasn’t the fantastic finish I had hoped for. But it was also much more exciting than I ever thought. I endured. And I now have a sense of what it feels like for the leaders we coach through the pain of long term change. Endurance is hard work! It takes EVERYTHING you have: physically, mentally and spiritually. It takes full commitment and a support team. But the pride and confidence you feel as a result gives you the energy and courage for the next crazy dream you or your boss comes up with. Did I hear someone say Ironman in 2015?…