Leadership is a Marathon Not a Sprint!


Two of the most noted races in the track and field world are the 100-meter dash and the marathon. They are on opposite ends of the length spectrum – a sprint of 100 meters and a long trek of 42,195 meters (26 miles, 385 yards). Many times leaders work and act with an incredible sense of urgency, running faster, looking for every small edge and acting as if their hair is on fire.

Let’s call that leadership seen as a sprint.

I believe we must think about leadership differently. I believe we must view our work as a leader over the long term, keeping the fires in perspective and always keeping the big picture in mind.

Let’s call that leadership seen as a marathon.

Let me give you some examples.


Our job as a leader is to keep the big picture in mind at all times. If you drive your car looking just past the hood, your driving will be erratic, over-reactive and dangerous. So too for the leaders-as-sprinters. When we look too closely we over-react, we shift our focus too often, and this can be dangerous.

On the other hand, if you are always driving with your eyes moving and looking as far ahead as possible, you will still see what is happening closer, but it will be seen in the proper perspective to make adjustments in view of the long term.

Leadership is a marathon.


If we give people feedback that they need to be on time with reports, but have a habit of working right up to and just past the deadline, it will likely take some time for the behavior to change. One coaching conversation seldom changes habits and behaviors immediately. Good leaders and coaches know that patience is a virtue. If you want to develop and grow your people, you do that consistently over time – not in a moment.

Leadership is a marathon.

Goal Setting

While we certainly can (and should) have short term goals, most goals have a longer time horizon – a month, a quarter, a year. Sprinters wait until the deadline looms and do the best they can in the time remaining. The training plans I’ve seen can take you from starting to run to a marathon in 26 weeks. If you want to really reach any goals of merit and substance, you can’t cram it all into the last two weeks, and you know that.

Leadership is a marathon.


Leadership is complex and is something we learn and strive to get better at over time. Not from one workshop. Not from one book. Not from one blog post. The best leaders know that the way for them and their teams to reach their goals is to be on a consistent path of learning from all sources (including mistakes) every day.

Leadership is a marathon.


Does all of this mean we don’t need a sense of urgency as a leader? Not in the least. As leaders, we must think about the immediate, respond as appropriate and keep forward momentum, but that doesn’t mean every day must be treated as a sprint. Even the best marathoners in the world pace themselves.

The most productive people have a plan and work on long term efforts consistently, day after day, week after week. They know there is a time to run faster, and they know they can’t sprint the full race.

Neither can you and neither can your team.

The best leaders know that they are in it with their teams for the long haul. They see the big picture, coach patiently set big goals, learn continually, and are extremely productive.

The best leaders see leadership as a marathon.


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