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With its rich history, competitive field and demanding course, the Boston Marathon is one of the world’s most iconic road races.

Obtaining entry to the world’s oldest annual marathon by meeting the  qualification standards is a mark of achievement and a life goal for many runners. “Marathon Monday” as it’s called in the Boston area is a tradition that is also embraced by spectators. Approximately 500,000 of them line the course to cheer on participants, making it New England’s most widely viewed sporting event.

As a dedicated runner, I was thrilled to qualify for the Boston Marathon and extremely excited for the opportunity to take part. The race was a learning experience, delivering me lessons that I believe are not only applicable  to runners, but also to business leaders and organizations seeking improvement. With that, I’d like to share 3 universal lessons I took away from my 2019 Boston Marathon experience.

  1. Have a plan…and be ready to throw it out.

Marathon preparation is time consuming. You run hundreds of miles over many months to prepare your muscles and cardiovascular system to run 26.2 miles. You need to be know your body’s nutrition needs, what you need to wear and what the course is going to be like.

I was prepared for cold rain and wind in Boston. After all, I’d been training in these conditions for months. My body was adapted to cool temperatures. The truth was, I had grown overly confident in my belief that the weather would match the conditions I typically ran in. This left me unprepared for the scorching sun and high humidity that I encountered on race day. As a result, I found myself needing to respond on the fly. I did the best I could, drinking extra fluids, dumping cups of water over my head and adapting to a slower-than-expected pace over the second half of the race.

Your organization may face a similar situation, where your intentions collide with a changing reality requiring what’s known as emergent strategy. Unlike deliberate strategy, which is intentional, emergent strategy consists of your response to any number of unanticipated events. It’s critical for organizational leaders to watch closely for changes in their environment and then adapt and adjust their strategy accordingly.

  1. Attitude is just as important as aptitude

My race didn’t go according to plan. I made some mistakes early, running the first half of the marathon too fast for the conditions. As the temperature and humidity rose, my leg muscles began cramping severely 19 miles into the race, something I’ve never experienced in any previous race. It would be easy to get negative, start panicking or despairing. But I forced myself to stay positive, recognizing that I only had seven miles to go, and that my goals just needed to be adjusted. Though I’d entered the event with a time goal, now I redefined success as merely finishing the race.

Studies have found that poor workplace attitude can impact performance, affect the culture of an organization, and disrupt teamwork. Hiring highly skilled individuals that are a poor organizational fit, or who are consumed with negativity can disrupt a well-functioning team. Employees with the right attitude can overcome obstacles, be trained for aptitude and are more likely to be engaged employees.

  1. Connect with your support network and utilize their knowledge

While running is on its face an individual activity, utilizing others’ knowledge can contribute to success and improvement. Before I toed the starting line in Boston, I sought any advice I could obtain from race veterans that might give me a slight advantage. I reached out to friends and acquaintances, who were able to offer perspectives I hadn’t considered. As a result, I showed up at the muddy Athletes Village near the starting line in old shoes I was ready to toss out, keeping my race shoes clean and dry in a Ziploc bag. When my original lodging plan fell through, I was able to rely on my personal and professional network for accommodations before and after the race. Without my support network there to meet me at the finish line, I wouldn’t have been able to put on my pants (literally- my legs were so cramped I could barely bend over or walk) after the race.

In business, there’s no need to go it alone either. Cultivating meaningful connections is an excellent method for helping to achieve your goals. Whether it’s joining a professional association, reaching out to people you’ve interacted with through business or approaching friends and acquaintances, you’ll benefit by tapping into other people’s experiences. What’s more, those connections can often lead to other opportunities. Always remember that when it comes to growing your network or tapping its resources, be prepared to offer support in addition to receiving it. You’ll be able to establish and maintain stronger connections with others who will be happy to lend you assistance when you need it.

– Michael Pearlman for The Align Team