The Leader and the Race


A former VIM Executive Coaching client stopped by the office last week, and I was surprised to see that he was using a cane. Naturally, I inquired what as to what had happened. He informed me he had had knee replacement surgery about 5 weeks before. I asked if it was hurting, and he smiled and said, “Well, yes, but it’s getting better each day!”

It seemed somewhat odd that he was happy to be recovering but at the same time was in some noticeable discomfort.I joked if he had found some kind of “happiness pill!” He shook his head and laughed. He told me instead that he was just running a new kind of race.

Once a runner

My client, even in his mid-50s, looks as though he could line up in an Olympic race. He was once an elite runner, excelling in 5,000-meter races. He competed in college and on an international basis. He was sponsored by an athletic clothing company and eventually found his way into sports marketing. He is an outstanding executive leader and I am proud to have been able to help him in his career.

For all of the accolades once held, he is one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met. It is no surprise that his managers love him. He is compassionate and an authentic person. More than that, he is accepting of himself and of others.

As we were talking, I asked him an innocent enough question:

“You were once a world class runner and now you have an artificial knee. Aren’t you depressed about it?”

His answer was priceless.

Show gratitude and acceptance

As he was recovering from the surgery he admitted he was feeling sorry for himself. He knew that jogging and especially running are not recommended for knee replacement surgery patients.

“There I was,” he said, “a former record holder no longer allowed to run.”

He went out and bought a large tire “around town” bike with just a few gears. He took it to City Park and started to slowly make his way along the bike path. He was passing runners and joggers and felt bad. Then someone yelled, “On your left!” A pack of racing bikes whooshed past him. He felt awful. “Everyone was passing me!”

Then in the distance, he saw a jogger coming from the opposite direction. It was an odd, lop-sided gate. As he drew closer, he saw the man had a prosthetic leg. There was no telling how the injury may have happened and it was not important. The jogger was pushing and working on that hot summer’s day and face was unyielding. He was running the same loop of the park as everyone else was running. Something about that was inspiring.

“Suddenly, I thought about the word ‘acceptance,’” he said. “I often tell my managers to accept things for the way they are. Whether it is a poor result that cannot be foreseen or even when one of their family members has a health issue. We have to accept life for all its good and bad moments.” Then he added: “We often think by accepting that we are failing, but it may be we have found a whole new way to be effective and happy.”

My friend and former client explained that when he saw that man struggling to run, he understood that in a world of picking desired outcomes, the man would not have chosen a prosthetic leg. Nevertheless, he was running his race with neither self-consciousness nor shame. The man neither wanted nor expected praise. He just wanted to be as effective as he could be.

He never saw the man again, but the man taught him a great deal about life and leadership too. So many executive leaders constantly chase outcomes that are never there or they place impossible expectations on people who are unable to deliver. Far better to be authentic and to work within your means – and your breath.

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