The preceding quote from George Sheehan MD, a person who inspired me, and thousands of other runners, to achieve our best, also planted the seed that maybe if I trained hard enough I could qualify for the Boston Marathon. I still can feel the exhilaration on seeing the finishing clock as I crossed the line at the Marine Corps Marathon; I knew I had qualified for the 1982 Boston Marathon. I was beyond excited; Boston was the pinnacle of marathons in the 60’s thru the 80’s and I had achieved the right to be at the starting line with number 3451. My emotions were about to intensify even more; approximately a mile into the marathon I noticed Sheehan just ahead of me. I had no doubt that it was him: I had seen him run in a number of films and read his book, Running and Being, all of which had motivated me to start running.
Sheehan’s running style was unique, but his breathing style was unmistakable. Huff and puff is a mild description of the steam engine locomotive sound he made as he ran. My recollection is that he was in his 70’s and I was 35 and I was soon to pass him. I thought for a moment, should I say something to him as I pass? When I pulled along side, I looked over and he looked back. I said, “Dr. Sheehan thank you, if it were not for you I would not be here today.” He smiled and wished me the best. I felt blessed by a sage who had been to the top of Mt. Olympus, and for a fleeting moment I thought I might just win this race! However, Alberto Salazar had other plans and a stronger finishing kick, beating me by a mere 52 minutes! Alberto broke a record that day, and I finished. He was determined and courageous and beat a rival by a mere 2 seconds, but he was no more determined and courageous than 5,000 thousand other runners that day, including yours truly.
I also remember the day before the race. I was having breakfast at the hotel with a best friend and we started up a conversation with a guy sitting next to us. He said he lived for marathon day. He went on to say that 363 days of the year he’s a mailman, but on this one day he feels special, successful and the crowds treated him, as they do all the runners, as a hero.
Isn’t this at the heart of George’s wisdom? “Success in life is the determination and courage to be whom you are meant to be.” In the mailman’s case it meant not only to be a marathon runner on this one day of the year, but to be a man who delivers birthday cards to other people’s three-year-old grandkids in every condition nature can throw at him.
George Sheehan was a cardiologist. No doubt he repaired and saved many hearts. But George was meant to be a teacher; not the kind of teacher who stuffs you full of information, but in the true sense of the Latin word educere, he was able to bring forth the best in you. In his role as teacher, philosopher and runner he opened and touched the hearts and minds of thousands and helped to prevent the very disease he was trained to treat.
I started running about the same time I assumed my first CEO position. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to be a leader and I knew I was never going to be a professional runner. However, running helped me discover what kind of leader I was meant to be. Running helped me experience a deeper and more intense level of determination and how to summon the courage to push through adversity and complete the goals I had set for myself. I also learned that there were aspects of leading that I was just not going to be good at.
What I came to understand is that, like George, I was meant to be a leader who enjoyed creating organizations where Educere became the operating philosophy. Much later I learned that my core strengths include a love of learning, creativity and curiosity, which affirmed why I felt most comfortable, passionate and challenged in pursuing this brand and embracing this particular style of leadership.
DeWitt Jones, in his film, Celebrate What’s Right With the World, offers a similar message and worldview. Finding out who you are and being able to see and celebrate abundance is a formula not just for success but also for significance. So don’t burden yourself with what you are not – Celebrate What’s Right For You. Celebrate the leader you are meant to be. When you do this, the people you serve will thrive also.
Tips to “Being” a Successful Leader:
Have an open and flexible mind: Rekindle the curiosity and drive you had as a child to explore, understand and learn.
Become intimately connected with your strengths, and celebrate them by using them as often as you can. (See Resource below)
Let others contribute their strengths; a team is the sum of its individual strengths and so is a leader.
Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate: We devote an enormous amount of time and energy to dissecting our weaknesses and failures, and so little time celebrating what’s right.
Don’t let yourself get stuck in a rut: Every day, find something that gives you relief, fun, health and inspiration. Run, paint, write, sing, play music, dance, read non-fiction, play with your kids like you are one of them.
Resource: Log on to the Authentic Happiness Web Site and register to take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths