from VICTOR OLADOKUN in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
ABIDJAN – SOONER or later, any sports record will be broken. Nothing stands forever. However, there are certain records that are far more difficult to break.
Symbolically, such barriers represent the peak of human limitation.
In 1954, Britain’s Roger Bannister became the first person to run the mile in less than 4 minutes. It was an athletics ‘ceiling’ that no one ever thought they’d see smashed in their lifetime.
Bannister entered the history books with two pace setters, Christopher Chataway and Chris Brasher, without whom the record may never have been broken.
October 12, 2019, was athletics déjà vu once again. For years to come, millions worldwide will remember exactly where they were when Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge became the first person ever to run a 26.2 mile marathon in under 2 hours.
The defining moment in sports history provides excellent parallels for leaders in any endeavour and success principles in general.
1. PASSION: Without passion there is absolutely no fuel to light the fire of personal desire or collective support. It’s quite rare to find a leader without this essential trait. Vienna was not Kipchoge’s first attempt to break the sub two hour marathon barrier.
An earlier attempt in Monza, Italy, in 2017, had ended in failure. But, at the age 34, he would not be denied.
2. CONFIDENCE: When the chips are down, record-breaking and ceiling-smashing leaders are possessed with a quiet confidence that says there are no limits. They have an uncanny sense that all things are possible.
Confidence is not to be mistaken with arrogance. Rather, it is an internal compass that points north toward the finish line even when others cannot see or believe it.
3. VISUALIZATION: The landing on the moon had been ‘accomplished’ in several simulations by the NASA team long before Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on moon dust in 1969.
Likewise Eliud Kipchoge and his team alone had to have ‘seen’ the sub-2 hour barrier come crashing down, long before he laced up his shoes to begin the race.
All successful athletes, CEOs, entrepreneurs and leaders, see the end from the beginning and are able to project the future they anticipate in their minds into the present. To run at an unheard of gut-wrenching speed, Kipchoge and his team had to.
4. PREPARATION: As Tanzanian marathon runner Juma Ikanga said after winning the New York City Marathon in 1989, “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” In essence, you can hope and want to win more than anyone else in the world, but if you do not put in the work, it will not matter one bit.
In short, ‘hope’ is not a strategy.
Eliud Kipchoge’s jaw-dropping record of 1 hour 59 minutes and 40 seconds was not a fluke. It was as much a giant leap for human endeavour, as it was an amazing spectacle of precision planning, technological innovation, tactical creativity, efficient team work and flawless execution.
5. ENDURANCE: Success in life is a marathon. It is not a sprint. There are no short cuts. Inspirational, successful and ceiling-smashing leadership requires endurance for the oftentimes gruelling journey. Successful leaders recognise that there are no testimonies without tests.
It is always lonely at the top. When the chips are down and the supporting cast has done its bit, leaders still have to rise up long before the dawn to meet the road and the challenges ahead.
Come rain or shine, they put on their running shoes and keep moving, even when it hurts and their lungs are bursting for rarefied oxygen.
In life, especially in challenging times of which there will be many, we all need to hear that inner voice which says – “Keep on going. Keep on moving. You can make it. All things are possible.”
6. TEAMWORK: Absolutely no one reaches the pinnacle of success on their own. They are helped along the way by door openers, way makers, and hand clappers who quietly work behind the scenes to make things happen.
Long before Eliud Kipchoge started his history-making run, he was fortunate to have the support of INEOS, one of the world’s largest chemical producers and a leading global player in the oil and gas field.
INEOS bankrolled what would be become a hugely expensive, long and technologically advanced preparation.
Kipchoge had the advantage of specially designed, never-before-seen super high-tech running shoes designed by Nike, to help cushion the asphalt’s pounding impact.
He also had 41 world-class pacemakers to help push the boundaries of what is possible. Laser guided lanes told the pacesetters precisely how fast they needed to go and exactly where they needed to be positioned throughout the race. To reduce aerodynamic drag and wind resistance, the pacemakers cocooned Kipchoge in a v-shaped shield.
From beginning to end, they were an ever-present cloud of witnesses cheering him on.
There were nutritionists who determined what and how much he ate months in advance.
There were physiotherapists and medical personnel who went to extraordinary lengths in ensuring everyone was in tip-top form. And, there were technicians on bicycles passing out water at intervals to save precious seconds on the clock instead of having to grab water off of tables.
Its hugely important to note that not everyone crucial to Eliud Kipchoge’s success had a ‘high profile’ position. One of the least noticed but critically important jobs on the team, were specially selected ‘road sweepers!’ Their primary task before and during the race was to remove cones and any form of debris from the 26.2 mile course to ensure that neither Kipchoge nor any of the 41 pacemakers tripped up or ended up with blisters that could have ruined months of preparation.
Unsung, and seemingly unimportant, their vigilance and role would be critical to the record breaking success.
With little or no room for error, everyone on the team had to be exactly on the same page … if not on the same sentence.
Smart and successful leaders – CEOs, corporate executives and managers, heads of government and public institutions, sports and entertainment stars – recognise that the journey to the top takes a tribe … a selfless and supportive cast, who are equally imbued with a sense of vision, purpose and destiny.
7. FAITH: Achieving one’s dreams and successfully leading others towards a goal, requires that a combination of variables be in alignment. But in addition to that, there is an intangible tangible … faith. After all is said and done, success requires faith … in yourself, your team, and more importantly in God and His plans to make you stand out in your sphere of influence, no matter how large or seemingly small.
NB: – Dr. Victor Oladokun is the Director of Communication and External Relations at the African Development Bank, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire