How Running Triathlons Sharpened My Skills for Running a Business

September 18, 2017

Three years ago, I found myself overweight and out of shape, like a lot of busy people in their mid-50s.

I had to make a bold change, and since I’d always been athletic, I knew I had it in me. Plus, when it comes to the skills for running a business and those applied in life, I like big challenges and the elation that comes with reaching a goal.

I picked the triathlon. Relatively few people participate in the swim-bike-run events, and fewer take it up late in life. But I live in San Diego, the birthplace of the sport, and it must’ve rubbed off on me.

And I learned that running a business is an awful lot like competing in a triathlon. Think about it – maybe you’ve had a similar experience with a hobby. As the leader of your business, you’re constantly striving to beat your competitors. To do so, you must train, develop skills and demonstrate endurance to reach a series of milestones.

As I began training, I saw that the three parts of a triathlon are like three skills for running a business: communicating, executing and optimizing your plans. To win on the course or in business, you have to do them all well, and see how they complement each other.

Swimming = Communicating

Swimming makes up just about 10 percent of the event, but it’s the first portion, and it sets the tone for the rest of your race. It also takes concentrated effort physically and mentally.

Similarly, in business, establishing and maintaining the necessary lines of communication can take less time than other initiatives, but it requires extreme focus. After all, one of the most important skills for running a business is the ability to express yourself clearly.

It’s important to improve your technical proficiency. Just like swimmers must perfect their strokes, business owners must streamline communications, provide updates at a regular cadence and include mechanisms for feedback from employees, customers and other stakeholders.

Biking = Executing

Biking takes up to half the total race time, and small improvements can add up to make a major difference in overall finish time.

The same can be said of the execution phase of running a business: Incremental gains in your organization’s efficiency and effectiveness will pay big dividends over the year.

Put in extra effort to complete important projects that have a major impact on your bottom line. You’ll position yourself to gain valuable new insights that will increase your organization’s endurance.

Running = Optimizing

The final leg, running, takes a third of the time but more energy than the biking segment. It’s the make-or-break finale that can have the biggest impact on your results. Blaze through for an impressive finish – or falter and see the poorer results.

Additional endurance training – the way triathletes optimize the power of each stride – is essential.

You can see the similarities in business.

The time you spend optimizing your processes and equipping your team with necessary tools will have the most impact on your bottom line. So, analyze your resources and allocate them efficiently. Ask where you’re falling behind. For example, you might not be applying data in the most optimal way.

Bringing It All Together = Winning the Race

To successfully deliver the desired results, you must devote substantial time and focus to these skills for running a business. As a best practice, evaluate each on a periodic, regular basis, perhaps at the end of each quarter.

Finally, in sports and in business, remember to celebrate a win with your team, each time you hit a milestone.

Today I’m 30 pounds lighter and having the time of my life. There’s still nothing like crossing the finish line – of a race or a business goal. And I remember that elation every time I start a new challenge.

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