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  
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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.   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
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What is YOUR definition of a Gold Medal?

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
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How Shackleton hired the RIGHT candidates for the job

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton put together a great team of individuals to accomplish one of the most challenging expeditions mankind had ever faced.  His goal was to lead 27 people on foot across the entire continent of Antarctica.  Many people, including those who knew some of what they would face, thought they were out of their minds and that success was doubtful.  Ironically enough, it was this degree of difficulty and the radical vision of Shackleton to do something that nobody had ever dreamed of or dared to try that created the magnetism for attracting the right candidates for the job.  Here is the ad that Shackleton wrote to recruit his team.  Keep in mind that this ad drew more than 5,000 responses! “Men wanted for hazardous journey.  Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger.  Safe return doubtful.  Honor and recognition in case of success.” Transposing this story and concept on the world of business today, the very best candidates for the job are those who want their time and talents pushed to their limits.  The performers who are willing and able to redefine their definition of difficulty and push their level of engagement significantly higher, want to work for a company, and a leader, who thinks much bigger than average.  The $64,000 question for you, as a leader or manager, who is looking to hire the very best people for the job is this: Is your company’s vision and mission to accomplish something in your industry that has never been done before?  How is your opportunity so radically different than any of your competitors?  Why should a very qualified candidate (who is likely working for a competitor right now) raise their hand and show interest in what you have to offer?  Is the value proposition of what you offer to someone compelling enough to gain interest of the very best people? Here is a good exercise to start answering these questions.  Ask yourself and your colleagues this:  If a truly qualified person takes this role that we are recruiting to, what will they learn, do and become as a result of working for us in this specific role?  Will they learn, do and become something much more significant than where they currently are now?  Is the opportunity here at our company and in this role showcased in a creative way that clearly showcases a value proposition that resonates a great opportunity to learn, do and become something significant? If you’re not getting great results, the answers to these questions is probably closer to no than it is to yes.  Just for comparison, go online to any big job board and pull up some ads from other companies. Put yourself in the shoes of a candidate and read what they are offering.  Is the ad really creative?  Does it stand out in a compelling way?  Is the value proposition of the company so strong that you feel the pull to want to investigate?  Is there a
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Pick Up The Phone (or Video Conference Line)

In this modern day of advanced communication tools, social media and other related technology we all use to communicate with people, introduce ourselves and make things happen in our business, let’s not forget the value of the simple and timeless tool called the phone. I’ll never forget the day at Nationwide Cellular, my first sales job in 1992, when my sales manager pulled me aside and told me this: “the phone is your best friend in sales.”  The phone is one of the fastest and shortest distance between two people.  With cell phones, you can make things happen while driving or stuck in traffic.  You can impact people while at your kids sporting events, running errands or while traveling. There are the top 3 reasons why a phone call is so effective in making sales happen; 1.  Connect with people on an emotional level:  If you are really passionate about what you do and why you do it, and you really believe that the product or service that your represent really is well worth a customer’s time and money, it will come across in your voice.  On a phone call, you have the advantage of infusing powerful convictions and emotions into the person on the other end.  Even if you leave a voicemail, you can accomplish the same thing.  Asking good questions, telling stories, giving examples and conveying value all over the phone can do for you what no social media site, email or brochure can do for you. 2.  Major Time Saver:  Just about every medium or larger size town/city has traffic jams.  We have all been there and hate it.  However, if you are prepared, you can make quality calls while in the car.  Whether it is a live conversation or voicemail, the phone allows you to cover more ground in the same amount of time than just about any other means of effective communication.  If you know that you have a drive or traffic situation ahead of you, plan in advance to make several calls.  Make notes including names and phone numbers and put them on the seat next to you.  Use your time in the car wisely.  Even if you are not in the car, but working from home or an office, make a list of calls to be made the day before and you will have a very productive start to your next car trip or next working day. 3.  Take Advantage of Video:  On a recruiting assignment I recently concluded, myself, our candidates and my client company conducted all of our interviews and debrief sessions using video calls.  There are many services such as Skype, Oovoo and others that are FREE.  I got to know my candidates and the people who work at several of my client companies in a much better way, since we were able to see each other on our interview calls.  To this day, I have not met in person any of the people I’m citing in these examples, but
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