Do you manage for the sprint, or the marathon?
Do you manage for the sprint?…or ….
Do you manage for the marathon?… or …
Do you manage for the race?
What is a sprint?
Imagine a Summer Olympics bicycle sprint race around a track. The racers are poised on their bikes. Their leg muscles are tense. Their hearts are pounding. Their muscles are ready to consume incredible amounts of energy and oxygen. Their heads are up and their eyes are looking forward. They are full of concentration, of tension. They are thinking about leading at the beginning, leading in the middle, and leading at the end.
The gun goes off and away they go.
They are full out until they cross the finish line. They have either won or lost and that’s the race.
Now consider the Tour de France.
The racers are poised at the starting line. Their legs are relaxed. Their heads are up and their eyes are looking forward. All their support personnel and vehicles are standing by. The racers are thinking about pacing themselves. They are thinking about the early part of the race as well as the middle and the end portions of the race.
The gun goes off. They begin the race. The support cars and motorcycles follow along. The support people communicate important information to the racers. The racers grab nourishing liquids along the route. They stop at various locations for rest and food.
This then is the “marathon” race. It goes on for days, even weeks.
How do most managers and leaders do their jobs?
Most managers and leaders do not know how to manage or lead for a race that is a combination of sprint and marathon. Who runs a race that is a combination of sprint and marathon, anyway?
Most managers and leaders I have met, worked with, or coached, tend to manage or lead… for the sprint. More rarely, I have found managers and leaders who manage and lead for the marathon. But seldom have I met managers and leaders who manage and lead “for the actual race”.
Most manage and lead as if their job is to put their direct report(s) on the bike, fire the starting gun, and sit back and watch the employee race, full out, around the track until they cross the finish line; until the task is done. They expect their job to be done after the starting gun goes off. If the direct report(s) fail it is “their fault”.
When you hear leaders talking about their job being to “inspire” you know they think their job is just to fire the starting gun. They think their job is to make the employee “excited” and “fired-up” to do the job and then they are supposed to get out of the way. Their goal is to let the race run it’s course. They sit back in order to let the employee feel “empowered”.
You should at least manage and lead for the marathon
The better managers and leaders manage and lead for the marathon. They not only inspire and excite their employees, they also work with, monitor, and help their employees succeed during the entire project. Like the pace cars in the Tour de France, like the people who provide nourishing drink to the racers, the marathon manager and leader is there to help and advise their direct reports along the way. Why is it that we assume that Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven times still needs and deserves pace cars, nourishment, and advice along the route, while on the other hand, we think we should “empower” and “cut loose” our employees to do their work alone and on their own?
Ideally you should manage and lead for the sprint AND the marathon.
The best way to manage and lead is to manage and lead for the “race being run”. That is, it is important to understand that every task has both a sprint portion and a marathon portion and maybe several portions of each. The sprint portion can vary from an hour to a month and the marathon portion can vary from a month to several years.