Participation in a world championship competition in anything never crossed my mind until this summer, when I was invited to an obstacle course racing (OCR) world championship. I was somewhat incredulous, as I had only run one obstacle course race. That was the BattleFrog 5K, a competition that appealed to me based on its design by Navy SEALs, the group I respect the most based on my personal interaction with a platoon as a Naval Officer and more recently reading a couple of books about SEAL operations and training.
My Naval Officer experience was powerful in ways I did not understand at the time, but the experience drives my leadership skills to this day. Now I can also add the reflection and learnings I gained from competing in an athletic world championship and apply those points to leading a business or leading a team of people to achieve success.
The first truly independent global championship for the burgeoning sport of OCR (according to OCRWorldChampionships.com) was held outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, on the last weekend of October. I qualified for the championship by finishing third in my age group in my BattleFrog race this past summer. That event was the most physically challenging competition I had done since running the SEAL training obstacle course in California during a summer NROTC training period. When I finished the BattleFrog race I was completely disoriented and absolutely exhausted. I was still surprised about a month later when I received an email that said my result qualified me for a world championship.
The OCR course was almost three times as long as my BattleFrog race, and it would only be my second obstacle course race, so I was apprehensive about competing. However, in the end my decision point was easy as I had never been close to competing in a world championship before, I was still training in general, and I figured I could mentally gut it out to overcome any physical limitations.
I started with my age group on that Saturday at noon, well after the professional racers had started and most had probably finished. It was a great October day, but my result was below my expectation, completely exhausting with plenty of scrapes and bruises, and very frustrating. It was, however, a great learning experience and a re-motivator. The takeaways?
Specific training makes you better. I really did not know how to train for the championships, so I stuck to my weekly regimen of weights, core work, spin classes, and tennis. This was general activity and not specific to the race. In the race I found my upper body was still not strong enough, my grip strength was low, and I was not used to running up and down high degrees of elevation.
In business, you can be book smart and knowledgeable about a lot of areas, but do you know the key areas that can generate success? Train yourself in those key areas and you will excel. Earlier in my career those areas were technical accounting and then financial analysis. Now sales and marketing are key for my company to be successful long-term, so I spend most of my time in those areas and activities. My training now is putting myself in front of our customers and potential customers to gain experience being the face of the company, listening to customers’ needs and problems, explaining the benefits of our products, and figuring out how to solve their issues with our products.
Help is all around you – receive it. Help can be mental, physical, or both. About halfway through the course I encountered an obstacle that required balance with a couple of wires to cross over a deep ravine. At the other side an observer said some encouraging words (I am sure he was a SEAL) but I dismissed them as I was frustrated with my performance in the race to that point. He said how many people do you know that are competing today and that I was in an elite group. As I was continuing down the course his words kept coming back to me and helped to motivate me to continue to push.
Near the end of the course there was an incline wall to get over. I arrived at the wall with another racer, a woman who was loud and energetic. However, neither one of us had the traction to get high enough on the wall to grab the top and climb over. So she suggested that we help each other by climbing up on each other’s shoulders to reach the top. We each did that and were successful.
In business help is mostly mental (unless you are out in the plant learning the manufacturing side of your business), but that four-letter word is powerful. Generally people want to help you, be that succeeding on a task, solving a problem, or just listening when you want to figure out how to execute. Receive help even if you do not think the help is meaningful or beneficial at the time. Ask for help when you need it. For some people, myself included, that is hard but you will find asking for help pulls people together, encourages you to delegate and share work, and generates more success than just going at it alone.
My help comes from supportive ownership who are there to keep me going when I get frustrated and our manufacturing team who figure out how to solve both simple and complex issues to keep our quality high and maintain our ship date promises.
Get better from your challenges. During some of the running parts of the course, up and down hills in difficult terrain, I thought about how much easier playing in a tennis tournament was than competing in a world championship obstacle course race. Competition in tennis is right in your face, and that fuels my drive to work to be the best. But, in the end, after I finished the race and felt extremely frustrated at my time and failure at four of the 59 obstacles, I then decided that I could get better at this. It would not be impossible to improve in this difficult and challenging sport.
In business, you have challenges, some large and some small, every day. Focus on doing better each day than the last. Learn from those challenges, whether you succeed eventually or fail, and make it happen. Indeed, most things are out of your control, but your work effort and quality of work product you produce is what you can control. As a leader, you cannot control your team or your company but you can control how you react to your team’s challenges and how you lead them to execute. Put away negative thoughts as soon as possible and figure out how to get better and how to lead your team to do better.
Competition is everywhere in life whether you choose to see it or not. Don’t settle for mediocrity – push yourself to excel and be the best in what you do. I finished just outside of the top 500 obstacle course racers in the world. While some would say that is a great achievement, I look at specific training, getting more help, and improving from the challenges of the course will power me to do even better next year.
Are you satisfied with where you are? Don’t be. Look for training areas to make you better at your job. Receive and ask for help to execute your tasks. And get better from the challenges you face. Who knows what you can achieve in the future when you take these learnings to heart!