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4 Leadership Lessons Learned While Running

As former been-there-done-that leaders, CEO Coaching International coaches understand the unique pressure business leaders face and how difficult it can be to carve out personal time.

While finding time on the calendar can feel like an insurmountable feat to CEOs working tirelessly to grow their businesses in an unpredictable world, quality time outside of the office is imperative for a CEO looking to achieve his or her peak performance. Making time for personal passions can help ensure CEOs operate at their bests and lead healthy lives without regrets.

“It’s absolutely critical,” CEO Coaching International Partner and Coach John Giegerich says of leaders carving out time for themselves. “You have to have a balanced life.” This financial services executive and sales leader now helps his clients find a balance between business and personal pursuits every day as a coach at CEO Coaching International. He follows his own advice, too. 

John Giegerich: “It’s absolutely critical” CEOs balance their lives by committing to something they love outside of the office.

John’s chosen passion? Running, and a lot of it.

A multi-sport athlete (football, baseball, wrestling, soccer) growing up – John turned to running as an adult to maintain fitness. He loved running The Peachtree Road Race (world’s largest 10K) with his brother and friends. In 1999, John and his wife, Stephanie, ran their first Army 10 miler – they have returned many times and always draw inspiration from the patriotism of the crowd, runners honoring the fallen and wounded veterans persevering to finish.

1999 was also the year John learned the most important lesson in distance running.  As in life, there are no short-cuts to success. Yes, he successfully completed his first marathon (Richmond) but he paid the price for his lack of preparation – his longest training run was 10 miles.  I “couldn’t walk for two weeks after,” he noted.

John properly trained for his next Richmond marathon and his passion for distance running was born as he successfully crossed the finish line – that love for the challenge has remained for almost two decades.

John says he loves hitting a moment in a marathon when he has to “dig deep inside and say, do I have the mental fortitude to push through to complete the goal? I love testing myself in that way,” he adds.

John completed his 21st marathon in October 2020 (Virtual NYC) and decided to celebrate his 56th birthday on February 27, 2021, by running 56 kilometers (or 35 miles) in his first Ultramarathon.

In addition to the personal lessons John has discovered through running, John’s time outside of the office, putting miles on his running shoes, has helped him become a better leader, too.

We sat down with John to learn the top leadership lessons he’s learned from running.

1. Be Crystal Clear on Your Goal.

Much like a CEO needs to look into her crystal ball to determine what she wants to achieve in the year ahead, John has found that running has reinforced to him the importance of having a clear vision.

John says he often sees CEOs who know their goals and share them with the leadership team but then neglect to share them with the whole company.

“In business, think about the person who is working hourly, doing the dirty work and the heavy lifting. Don’t you want them to see the clear mission, vision and values of the company – where you want to take it?” John asks. “Think about how much more involved they would be if they see it.”

John has found that same mentality – having a clear vision and making it known – works in running, too. “I was very public with my goal with everyone,” John says of his latest ultramarathon. When your goals are public and you make sure everyone knows about them, you generate both “support and accountability because you’ve set out the vision.” With the help of your team – whether it’s an ultramarathon or a Huge Outrageous Target to achieve a sales goal, “you will also have the clarity and commitment to get it done,” John says.

2. Set a Plan – Execution is Critical.

In preparation for his February 2021 Ultramarathon, John knew that the Make Big Happen questions would lead him in the right direction – What do you have to do? and What could get in the way? Just as he would properly prepare to execute on any Huge Outrageous Target as a business leader, John got to work on a plan of action for his ultramarathon, too.

“This race was over a third longer than anything I had ever done before,” John explains. Really tweaking and working with the fuel to make sure I had the energy to complete it was important. Breaking it down, I had to be crystal clear on the goal and the specific and measurable steps to make sure I was ready. I also had to determine what could get in the way.”

In order to prepare, John set aside several months to “build up the mileage so that [he] knew that [he] had the stamina.” He also put bourbon and wine – two beverages John enjoys – on the backburner. Next, John assembled a team of five to run the ultramarathon with him, since “things are always more fun when you’re doing them in a group.”

3. Pivot When Necessary.

Establish milestones for your plan – the ultramarathon was broken into a 4-mile warm-up, a marathon and a 5-mile final push.  John’s mentality prepared him for potential roadblocks – and that mental preparation paid off mid-race.

“In business, you have to pivot when it’s necessary,” John said. During the race, one of John’s teammates was having some hamstring issues. “He was really struggling,” John explains. “And so, we ended up finding him one of those motorized scooters…He rode the three final miles of the marathon with us. He was able to recover and did the last five miles with us. So, yes, we had to pivot. We let him recover. He ran 32 miles (a personal record) instead of 35 miles, but we all finished the race together.”

4. Never Underestimate the Power of People.

The most successful CEOs focus on five things – vision, cash, people, key relationships, and learning.

While vision has helped him see his destination from the starting line, and there hasn’t been a need to worry about cash flow while traveling by foot, in his two decades as CEO of his running career, John has found the people portion of his athletic passion particularly rewarding.

“It’s similar to teams and businesses. You are only as strong as your weakest player,” he explains. “We aren’t talking about underperformers, but keepers.” The military mantra of no man left behind resonates with John.  What are you doing to lift up your team when they have a bad day or week?  

In his October 2020 New York Virtual Marathon, John led a group of eight that ran together.  Five of the eight joined for the ultramarathon. “At an extra level, there was the joy and satisfaction of getting a group of people who didn’t believe in themselves that they could run this far. After putting in the work, having the plan, and executing it beautifully, it was extremely rewarding.”

In addition to “amping up” his own positivity supporting the culture of his running community, John has developed very close friendships and learned important life lessons along the way. John credits the F.O.R.D. Model from CX expert and friend of CEO Coaching International, John DiJulius, as a helpful tool in cultivating deeper key relationships along his running routes (and in business, too).

“When you’re marathon training and ultramarathon training, you’re with people for a long time,” John says. You’re spending extended periods of time with people and focusing on not just talking about the weather but talking about some real deep issues. I think getting in the habit of having that sort of interest in other people will help any business leader get to know their team better, get to know their important suppliers and customers better, and ultimately help the performance of their business and their enjoyment of life.”

Bonus Lesson

John shared a bonus lesson for leaders working to Make Big Happen in the office and in their personal pursuits  – Ask, “who fuels your tank?” For John, it is his wife, Stephanie, his ultimate supporter with a masters in sports nutrition who keeps him accountable during race preparation.

Making BIG Happen
By CEO Coaching International

Now a Best-Seller!
From the Experts at CEO Coaching International Making BIG Happen
gives you a proven methodology to drive extraordinary growth in your business.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average revenue CAGR of 31% (2.6X the U.S. average) and an average EBITDA CAGR of 52.3% (more than 5X the U.S. average).

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