Leading the Race

IMG_1519Saturday I participated in a 5k run – my first ever. It was a Color Run. As you make your way through the course, you get blasted with a variety of colored powders. You can tell someone has finished a Color Run because they look like a crayon factory exploded around them.

The organizers of the Color Run promote it as a giant party; a celebration. There’s music, dancing, give-aways, and lots of cheering. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and energy of the event and, as a result, almost impossible not to finish the race.

I was there to jump-start my personal fitness campaign. Others were there to test themselves physically – to set a new personal best time for completing the run. Others were there simply to enjoy the weather and time with friends. But while we all had different reasons for being there, we all had the same goal: to finish the race. Everyone participating in the 5k had the same end game in mind. We wanted to cross the finish line.

The organizers of the Color Run had a goal too. They stage these events in order to make money. We’d all paid a fee to be there. But they know that in order to be successful, we had to be successful as well. No one comes back for the next race if they have a bad time. So the people in charge – the leaders – made sure to create an environment that almost guaranteed we would succeed.

How did they do it? I thought you’d never ask …

1. They prepped us for success. In the weeks leading up to the event, I received informational emails that told me everything I needed to know to have a successful run. They told me what time to arrive, where to park, and what to wear. They provided maps, FAQ’s and other resources to assist me in reaching my goal. When Saturday finally rolled around, all I had to do was show up and run. Leaders understand the importance of addressing barriers to success up front. They prepare their team for success.

2. They encouraged teamwork. There were individual participants at the run, but I’d bet most people came with a team. My wife and daughter went with me and it helped knowing I wasn’t running alone. The Color Run organizers made teamwork easy by allowing you to create teams during the online registration process. They know that with running, as with most things, going through it alone is harder than going through it with a support group. I saw teams with similar t-shirts on. Other teams wore matching tutus, or costumes, or headgear. And I noticed that those running as part of a team seemed a lot happier and more energetic than those running alone. Leaders understand the importance of shared experiences. They encourage teamwork.

3. They created an engaging environment. When we pulled up to the designated parking area, it was easy to tell we were in the right place. We still had a short walk to the start line, and we couldn’t see anything, but we could hear it. The sound of up-tempo music and cheers found their way to our ears. As we approached, we could see the crowd gathering and the colorful flags that marked the event. People driving by – who weren’t even participating – slowed down and craned their necks to see what was going on. It was obvious that the environment at this place was different. It made others want to join in and made me feel proud to be involved. Leaders understand the importance of context. They carefully craft an environment conducive to success.

4. They celebrated our milestones. Finally the race began. As we progressed, we passed through a series of colored arches spread out along the course. Passing through each one represented the completion of a stage of the run. And with each milestone you passed, volunteers sprayed you with colorful powder (hence the name Color Run). These volunteers didn’t just throw a little color on you, they cheered for you. They celebrated the fact that you had made it to that point. And everyone wanted that feeling. Some participants walked the entire course – except for when they crossed a milestone. As they approached each arch, these people picked up the pace, raised their fists in victory, and gave out a shout. And that mini celebration gave them renewed energy that propelled them closer to the finish line. Leaders understand the importance of small victories. They celebrate with you every chance they get.

5. They made everyone feel like winners. I didn’t finish first. I didn’t finish in the top ten, or even the top 100. But I finished. And the same people who greeted the first runner across the line greeted me. I had a medal thrust into my hands and I joined in the party at the end of the event. I didn’t “win,” but I felt like a winner. Because I had accomplished my goal. I ran a 5k without having a heart attack. And it felt good to look around at all the other participants who had achieved their own personal goals that day. I have no idea who crossed the finish line first. The organizers never announced a first, second, or third place. It really didn’t matter – because we all won. We all achieved the goal. Leaders understand the importance of personal achievement. They know that if you don’t win, they don’t win.

My legs felt heavy Saturday afternoon, but my heart felt light. And I thank the organizers for leading me across the finish line. I’m looking forward to my next 5k and to achieving my next goal.

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