Back at the beginning of 2020, one could have been forgiven for thinking that COVID-19 was a worrying and yet soon-to-pass experience. With multiple efforts, adjustments and changes to more or less every aspect of our lives, it started to appear as though we were turning a corner and getting control of the pandemic…

As of today, various parts of the world are now preparing for or engaging with the ‘second wave’, another potentially tidal avalanche of cases, deaths and all of the associated social, physical, psychological and economic implications that it brings. Some say it may even worse that the first wave…

So, how do we deal with this? Many people rapidly stepped in and stepped up to face the challenges the pandemic presented. Disaster recovery plans were ignited, previously unheard-of changes made to people’s working patterns, how our children are educated, how we connect with each other, how we run businesses and how we run our lives. Whilst we are creatures of habit, human beings are also incredibly versatile when they need to be, we adapt, we flex, we evolve. The ability to demonstrate these qualities has most certainly made a huge difference and for this we are to be thankful. However, many of the actions and approaches taken are also not so easily sustained for much more than the short-term, mid-term at best. How long can you expect someone to work a 12–14-plus hour day, day after day? How long can children be expected to sit in front of a screen being educated by zoom? How long can “non-urgent” medical issues wait? How long do the financial reserves needed to buffer the economy last?

In light of this pandemic being resilient, we need to be equally, if not more, resilient – and that means that this is a marathon and not a sprint.

I completed some brief desk-top research looking into the qualities of good marathon runners; those who can sustain their strategies over long periods of time in order to stay the course and achieve success. Having explored over a dozen sources of reference, certain qualities came up repeatedly. How can we develop these resources within organisations across all sectors of society? How can you as a leader maintain your valuable and much-needed contribution over many months, if not years to come?

12 Qualities for the Marathon Leader

  1. Purpose: marathon leaders have a strong sense of purpose or vision. It is this compelling sense of purpose behind what they do that enables them to dig deeper when the going gets tough and resolve is tested. This purpose becomes the “why” and the “what for” that underpins their actions each day. Purpose engenders motivation and it is this motivation that can help leaders to feel inspired and thereby inspire others to follow for the long haul.
  2. Preparation: even though things are moving fast, marathon leaders pace themselves so that they create the space and time to prepare, to think, to reflect and be ready to face the challenges of each day, each meeting, each obstacle along the way.
  3. Focus: having a strong sense of purpose also invites the marathon leader to remain focused, to use their preparation time to reflect and remember what the most important priorities at hand are.
  4. Tenacity: the marathon leader does not delude themselves that things will be ‘back to normal soon’. Instead, they are persistent and determined, knowing that their actions will be needed in a consistent and continuous approach.
  5. Patience: tenacity, persistence and determination can also benefit from a dose of patience. A marathon is a long haul and managing one’s own and others’ expectations is important.
  6. Intuition: marathon leaders don’t just operate from their minds, they engage with their heart, their gut and all of their senses to help them navigate a path forward.
  7. Don’t dwell: given the long-term nature of a marathon, it is important to be able to notice, assess, acknowledge, re-group and move on…quickly, so that momentum is not lost. Good marathon leaders recognise setbacks, celebrate successes, take learning from both and then swiftly get back into action, integrating the new learning as they go.
  8. Belief: given the testing nature of a marathon, the leadership athlete develops a strong sense of belief and trust around their purpose. It is this that enables the confidence to keep going, despite setbacks and challenges along the way.
  9. Openness: even though the marathon leader needs to be focused, determined, and strong in their belief, they also need to stay open. Open to change, open to a different way, open to learn, open to adapt. When change is often so hard for many, the marathon leader needs to role model the ability not only to change themselves, but to make it possible for others to feel they can change too.
  10. Strength: a marathon is not easy; it tests strength on many levels. The marathon leader focuses on how they need to be strong, be it mentally, physically or both. This kind of strength also includes the need for a measure of bravery, grit and even toughness when others seem fragile and vulnerable.
  11. Compassion: balancing alongside toughness is also compassion. Recognising that there will be good days and bad days, for themselves and for others, the marathon leader shows empathy, understanding and emotional intelligence.
  12. Self-care: like the runner, the marathon leader is the vehicle of success… or failure. The leader needs to be able to stay the course and keep leading, and for this they adopt a philosophy of “my body is a temple” (and perhaps my mind and soul too!).

When we bring all of these marathon qualities together, we don’t just handle change, challenge and uncertainty better…we actually evolve. The human race is evolving all the time, however, so are the threats such as COVID-19 that face us. The key, therefore, is how we evolve.

Some of these 12 qualities, you will most certainly have as strengths, and some could likely benefit from some attention and development.

How can you take some self-care now and give yourself the time to reflect and consider how you can evolve for the better as a marathon leader?

Tracy Sinclair, MCC

Tracy Sinclair is a multi-award-winning Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor, Mentor Coach and ICF Assessor. Tracy trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Tracy also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. Tracy has co-authored a book Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide published in 2020 which provides a comprehensive guide to coaching for coaches at all levels of skill and experience, the psychology that underpins coaching and the updated ICF Core Competency Model. In this same year she founded Coaching with Conscience which exists to have a positive impact on society and our environment through coaching. As part of this work, she collaborates closely with MIND, the UK’s leading mental health charity and the British Paralympic Association (BPA). She also offers pro bono personal development and coaching programmes to young leaders (18-25-yrs). Tracy was named as one of the Leading Global Coach winners of the Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Awards of 2019 and was a finalist for the Thinkers50 Coaching and Mentoring Award in 2021. She won the ICF Impact Award for Distinguished Coach in 2023 and is a member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches. She was the President of the UK ICF from 2013-2014 and was an ICF Global Board Director since 2016, serving as Treasurer in 2017, Global Chair in 2018 and Immediate Past Global Chair in 2019 and Vice Chair and Director at Large on the International Coaching Federation Global Enterprise Board in 2021.

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