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My Ironman Experience: Applying Lessons Learned to Make Me a Better Leader



By Andrew Fink https://www.linkedin.com/in/anfink/

As an Executive working for a small Software company, I am always looking for ways to “up my game”. My job revolves around leading a team to deliver services that wow our customers. These customers are our life blood but are also very demanding. “What can our team do better to improve our customer experience”.

So, enter my hobby – triathlons. I recently completed my second Ironman (Mont Tremblant) but my first one in five years. My first one I went in trained but totally blind on what to expect. This one was very different. It was not only a challenge but also gave me a different perspective on how my Ironman experience will make me a better leader. I would like to share some of my thoughts with you.

  • Planning / Goal Setting

My personal experience shows that competing in triathlons requires a focus on planning. The level of planning differs depending on the events themselves. Most events only require a few months of planning. Full Ironman events take planning to another level. These events can take nine months to a year of planning. After I signed up for Ironman Mont-Tremblant (10 months in advance), I hired a coach to help me lay out the macro plans / goals. The coach then created the micro level plans. These plans really took away some of the stress of detailing out the training for the week / day.  Even with the detailed plans, I found you still must figure out what equipment you need, what supplements are required, what food / drink you should have to accomplish the training and ultimately to use on race day.

In my day job, these practices of setting goals and building plans are critical to successfully leading an organization and taking the team to the next level.

  • Commitment / Balance

Once my coach laid out the goals and high level plans, we picked a series of events to support my “A” Ironman race. Once the races were laid out, I had to then work through the demands of the training every day. The first couple of months of the plan were not too bad. Then it got to the time where I was committing 15 to 20 hours a week to training. Now I had to balance work, family and Ironman training. The balance part of the equation proved to be very challenging. The demands at work (deliverables, travel, dinner meetings), at times, put a crimp in my ability to get home for family time and to get up at 3:30am for training time. Almost weekly, I had to modify weekly plans to accommodate schedule changes.  

In my mind, life comes down to Balance. Figuring out how to balance all the commitments. Learning how to compromise or even when to say No becomes critical to Balance. Key Learning -  the best laid plans should change / adapt to deal with conflicts and ultimately to successfully balance all the commitments.

  • Perseverance / Contingency

Somehow, I managed to successfully navigate my Ironman plan and balance life. I made it to Race Day. Now the reality of 9 months of training was hitting me in the face. So much must go right to finish Ironman. I felt ready to go in all four legs of the race – swim, bike, run and nutrition. In addition, the weather was fully cooperating with no rain and temps in the 60s in the AM and low 80s in the afternoon. I was ready to achieve my final goal. What I did not anticipate was equipment issues (2 flats on the bike). The first flat was not a huge deal. The second flat cost me 30 minutes of mechanic wait time before riding off with a spare front tire. This did impact my mind. I was very close to calling it a day. I had to wrestle through the fact that one of my goals would not be accomplished. I could not really re-engage in the race until I came up with a Plan B. I did end up completing the bike and had some fun doing it. Perseverance was the theme of the day for me but, in the end, I did manage to successfully finish Ironman Mont Tremblant.

I had an “Ah Ha” moment during the race. I should have had a contingency plan (Plan B). This is also the case in my day job where we spend most of our days managing risks with our customers. The team must persevere through various forms of issues while keeping the bigger goals in mind. Ultimately, managing the risks and contingencies with the customer is critical to achieve success.

  • All About The Team / Experience

For me, Ironman Mont Tremblant was an amazing experience. It became very clear, throughout my experience, that Ironman cannot truly be done without the support of so many people. It is truly amazing to think about the number of volunteers and family members that were at the event. Each of us had our own “team” that was impacted by the planning training and event itself. I got to celebrate during and after with my family who supported me throughout this journey. In addition, my interactions with the volunteers was extremely positive. I had so many individual interactions with a different volunteer that truly made a difference: from registration to the swim start to the changing tents to the bike mechanic and to each person who handed me a drink during the run. My Ironman experience would have been very different without the support of this entire team.

Ironman has figured out a way to consistently create a positive customer experience. Ultimately, they rely on thousands of volunteers to drive that experience. In my day job, I am responsible for the customer experience. Creating successful customers and outstanding experiences is very difficult to do unless the entire organization is aligned around the customer. Everyone on the team must believe the customer’s needs are front and center and be empowered to deliver “wow” moments.  It is All About the Team.

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