Lessons for your team that I learned watching the Sydney Marathon

Sometimes just being there and offering support can give others a boost. Credit goes to those in the arena.

Sometimes just being there and offering support can give others a boost. Credit goes to those in the arena.

Two Sundays ago, my 7-year old daughter and I headed into town and watched the Sydney Marathon. I had two friends running and took some drinks along to help them out. One of them suggested that it was "a true act of altruism". In actual fact, my daughter and I got a lot out of it so it was mutually beneficial. Here are just a few quick lessons that I learned.

Give credit to those in the arena 

In a very rare occurrence, I was very early! So early that we arrived in position before the leaders had even run past. That gave me a pretty unique opportunity that I found too hard to resist - to see if I could run along side the leaders and get a sense of how fast they are going. Check out 50 seconds of it here.

I know intellectually that these guys are running at about 20km/h (that's 18 seconds per 100m!). It's one thing to know it. It's better to see it. It's best to experience it. I was surprised that I could keep up as I did and that I wasn't too out of breath...but I only ran about 100m. They kept that pace up for 42.2km. For our teams, ways that we can develop an authentic experience and deep respect for the work is very helpful for you and those that you work with. It's good to remember as a leader that if you help out for an afternoon, it gives you a taste but it's not the same as being immersed on something for weeks or months.

Everybody hurts

As REM taught us in the 90s, everybody hurts. I saw people at the 28km mark and at about 38km. I don't think that there was anyone at 38km (irrespective of how fast or slow they were running) who wasn't hurting. It just seemed like different levels of pain and different expectations. It felt easier to pick out people running their first marathon!

For our teams, this is a good thing to keep in mind - at various points of projects or team development, we will all feel pain. Maybe in different ways and we may have different triggers, but everybody hurts. In case Late Show fans are wondering, I didn't see anyone wearing shoes with zippers.

Actively supporting can often mean a little bit of effort makes a big difference

We were probably watching the runners go past for about 2 hours. For at least half an hour of that, my daughter was doing this

It was amazing to watch how her presence was able to energise people that she was near. People regularly changed course and/or sped up, just to get a high five from a kid they have never met. That's an interesting thing to consider. That just by offering (some fairly minimal) support for someone, it consistently led to more effort and better performance (at least temporarily). This was repeated later on when we had spare drinks and were able to offer them to people. She saw people who had stopped and went over to give them a drink. On both occasions, they ended up moving again, first with a walk and then with a shuffle as they headed to the finish.

None of this took a lot of effort from her, but it did require her to notice and offer active support. 

Some questions for you to consider this week based on this experience:

  1. How might you be able to develop more empathy for your teammates, clients or stakeholders?

  2. Is there a simple way that you can offer someone some active support this week?