Run your own race!
Some years ago right after college, I began running competitively. Up until that point, I disliked running intensely, mostly because it was something my football and basketball coaches made us do to get in shape before the season and to punish us when we made a mistake during practice. Running just to run? Are you kidding?
But, somehow, I got into it and started running in road races, my very first being a 10K. And in that first race, I learned a very valuable lesson.
I didn’t know much about pacing over the course of 6.2 miles and because this was a competitive endeavor, I thought I needed to be sure that no one was allowed to pass me. So when someone tried, I accelerated my pace so as not to be passed. I did this each time, every time, with everyone who tried to pass me. The result was about as poorly run a race as ever recorded. I was sore, tired, winded, and did not achieve nearly the time I should have. What went wrong?
Later on as I was discussing this with a friend (and a long-time runner), he asked me about my race strategy. Race strategy? I recounted what happened and he had a good laugh, then told me, “No wonder it didn’t go the way you wanted. You ran everyone else’s race but yours!”
Setting a goal, having a plan, deploying resources in the correct measure and at just the right time are unique to each of us, be it a singular event like running, or a team endeavor such as running an effective business. Too frequently, we run our business race looking around at what everyone else is doing, assuming (often incorrectly) that a comprehensive and well-thought-out strategy is being employed by those around us, so we adjust our pace to keep up or stay ahead. And suddenly we are running “everyone else’s race”.
While it is worthwhile to keep an eye on (and, perhaps, even benchmark against) the competition, the most enduringly successful organizations set their own goals, establish their own pace, and, yes, run their own race with confidence and assurance. As a company advances in its quest to become world class, there will naturally be fewer companies around with whom comparison matters. The quest then is to be so far ahead of the competition as to render comparison with others invalid and useless. You will then benchmark against yourself, striving to improve at a greater pace, and creating even more distance between you and everyone else.
Leaders who are confident and value independent thought set their own pace and run their own race. And because they don’t accelerate, slow down, or change direction based solely on the actions of those around them, they don’t deplete resources. They stay the course with patience and conviction and continue to set personal records.