Archive for October, 2009

Perception can drive a strong finish in business and in racing.

October 12, 2009

We know the saying perception is reality and that saying applies to business and racing. I recently participated in a half marathon where I decided to aim for setting a personal record. To achieve this goal, I decided to join a pace group.

A pace group is headed by a pace leader who is tasked with making sure that everyone in the group runs a consistent pace and finishes the race in their goal time. The group leader is easy to spot because they’re holding a sign that has the group’s goal time on it. It serves as a constant reminder and landmark of what you’re trying to achieve.

One of the many nice things about a pace group is you have some company. You learn a great deal about people when you run with them for 13.1 miles. And that makes the journey to the finish line interesting and fun. It can also make that journey very rewarding.

I’m always excited to meet experienced runners and new runners to a race or distance endeavor. In this particular race, I met one of each in the pace group.

Jan was running this half marathon as a gauge to run her first marathon in October. Sherry had run a number of half and full marathons and is a triathlete and triathlon coach. Both women are athletes in their own right and I was honored to be in the group with them.

As we got off the starting line, Jan shared with me that her coach really felt she could finish the race in 2:11, but she wasn’t sure. She had never run that fast before, much less for that long a distance. I told her that there was no doubt in my mind that she could do it and we would do it together.

When we got to the water stop at mile 2, we realized they were out of water and we ran through without stopping. I noticed I’d lost sight of the pace group leader so I picked up my pace and so did Jan. About a mile later, I looked at Jan and told her I was a little concerned that we hadn’t caught up to the pace leader and was wondering how much longer and faster we were going to need to run before we caught up with the group again. Jan just smiled and told me that the leader and group were behind us. I didn’t realize we had passed them going through the water stop.

Since we were in this race together, I asked her how she was feeling and if the pace we were running was okay. She said she was fine and let’s keep the pace we were running as long as possible. I agreed, and we did.

Around mile 7, Sherry joined us. She had gotten split from the group at one of the stops too, had paced a bit too fast and was now looking to maintain a steady pace to the finish. We welcomed her and the three of us continued our journey to the finish line.

As we talked and ran, I learned Sherry was recovering from an injury and this was her first race since the injury healed. I asked her if she was feeling okay and she said she was, but she was concerned. There was a problem with the water stops running out of water at most of the stops and Sherry was starting to feel some muscle pain from dehydration. As we continued to keep our pace for several more miles, she looked at me and said every muscle in her body ached from dehydration and she didn’t think she could keep the pace. I told her to do what she would tell her athlete clients…try to relax and work through the pain. We continued on, and I tried to keep the conversation lively in an effort to distract her from her discomfort. At one point Sherry looked at me and said, “You’re my angel. I couldn’t keep this pace without you.” I just smiled and said, “No, I’m just the course entertainment. There’s no charge.” And we continued to run ahead of our goal pace.

In the end, we all finished well under our goal time and each set a PR. After the race, I ran into Jan as we were milling around in the finishers area. She said Sherry kept saying to her that I was her angel who got her through the race and to the finish line and Jan felt the same way. I later got an email from Jan saying that she felt running with me made all the difference. I was such a motivator and helped her achieve what she never dreamed was possible. She said I was so unselfish for pulling her and Sherry along.

That was their perception.

My perception was very different. My perception was that they pulled themselves along with their motivation, drive and athletic abilities. They had what it took to achieve and exceed their goal finishing times. They did it all themselves. I was just honored to run with them, enjoy their company and make two new running friends. Their spirit, stories and presence made the miles fly by for me. My perception is they got me to the finish line feeling strong, and we accomplished and shared something very special, individually and together. That was my perception.

While our perceptions were very different, our realities were the same. All three of us had a great time running together and set PRs in the process.

So, how does this relate to business? It’s simple. Never underestimate the power you have to effect someone’s perception and ultimately their reality. Seize opportunities to help people along their journey to setting personal goals in the workplace. Nurture their spirit, motivate them and help them see and believe that they can achieve things they may not think are possible. When you believe in others, they in turn believe in themselves. And when people believe in themselves they exceed their own expectations and can achieve amazing things. When you show your faith in others, you will reap the ultimate reward of knowing you have positively impacted someone else’s reality. And that’s truly powerful. Because when we do that, we all cross the finish line setting a personal record.