I went to my first-ever triathlon a month ago, the Big Kahuna, in Santa Cruz, CA. I bet you're wondering how I did? Actually, I went as a spectator. Friends and I went to support Jim Atkinson – a 40 year old man who had just started triathlons 2 years ago. Little did I know he would be the amateur winner of the entire event – all ages! Amazing!
How did Jim go from a newbie in this sport to beating nearly 650 other people? His mom described Jim 2 years ago as someone who sat around, drank beer, and looked like a "little buddha" with his belly. Need I say, no sign of that beer belly today!
In the Big Kahuna (a ½ Ironman), first participants had to swim 1.2 miles (in the cold ocean), followed by a 56-mile bike ride (with hills), and finish by running 13.1 miles. Did I mention the last part of the run was on the beach? Have you ever tried running in sand after you're totally exhausted?
So, what's his secret? From what I observed, Jim's winning methods are the same secrets that make for great leaders in fast-paced, competitive industries.
My "Top 5" Observations
1. Preparation. The day before the race, Jim went to the event location and familiarized himself with the routes, found the transition points, and practiced going through the transitions. Being better prepared is something that I work on with mid-level managers. They want to minimize surprises and handle those that come their way with finesse. Thinking, planning, and acting "ahead of time" allows for a smoother event.
2. Competitive Mindset. Jim pushes himself. As an example, he told me that if he heard footsteps behind him, he would keep his rule of "never look back." Instead, he pushed himself faster, because he didn't want the upcoming person to pass him. Competition in business too breeds confidence, high quality, and urgency.
3. Practice-Adjustment-Practice. In triathlons and in a leadership positions, there are new skills to learn. AND to master! You may first need to learn the front crawl swim stroke. With repetitive practice and fine-tuning you'll improve and start to beat your own time. Likewise, an important skill in business is an ability to communicate a clear and compelling message to your company. So, practicing clear messages in a variety of ways will move you to mastery. Practice, adjustment, and practice are essential.
4. Health. To be a top athlete in any sport, you must fuel your body wisely. Jim not only selected nutritious foods, he also paid attention to the timing of meals, mix of nutrition, and his body's response. Without a proper diet for your sport and body, you will not perform at your best. Likewise, as a leader if you are under a lot of stress, then you will not make the best decisions. You may start to "self-medicate" by adding more caffeine and sugar, and then it's a downward spiral towards loss of focus, irritability, or unhealthy energy.
5. Embrace the Role. Jim's attitude was that he's an "athlete." He had ownership and a "can do" attitude. He could have taken the mindset of "just for fun" or "another participant." Your attitude makes a difference, because it feeds into your level of commitment to the sport, the project, your team, your family, your job. Be "IN" the role. Embrace early on what you want to be, the new or next role, and you'll succeed faster.
Even selecting just one of these 5 to focus on can dramatically change your life! Best of luck to Jim in his quest to participate in Kona Ironman Championships, AND best of luck to you as you apply these 'triathlon secrets' to your various leadership roles in life!