Running – The Key to a Better Business?

An interesting study finds that entrepreneurs who run do better in sales.

A survey of 336 entrepreneurs found those who regularly run reported better personal satisfaction, independence and autonomy than their non-running or weight-training counterparts.

The study also found that companies managed by runners report better sales results than firms directed by non-runners.

"Attaining excellent physical condition requires developing a mindset that accepts and embraces hard work," said Mike Goldsby, a Ball State entrepreneurship professor who regularly competes in marathons and triathlons. "If small business owners were willing and able to grant their physical health the same respect as they do their financial and professional well-being, most would be in incredible physical condition.

"Conversely, good physical condition should contribute to entrepreneur's success in reaching their personal and financial goals as well," he said. "Maintaining a fitness regimen is helpful for attaining goals and sustaining entrepreneurship."

Interesting research and as a runner, I can see the benefits of it. What follows is my own experience with running, and what I have learned from it.

I started running when I was 13, which means I have been doing it for more than half my life. I was a freshman in high school (I went through school one year early) and got cut from the basketball team in part because I wasn't in good enough shape. I started running, and couldn't even finish a mile. After about 3 weeks, I worked up to a full mile, then two, then after several months I peaked around 4 miles. I went back the next year and made the team, but that is another story.

I ran all through college, usually 4-5 days a week, 3-4 miles at a time, but sometimes less when it was cold. I ran a few 5K races, but never took it real seriously. When I moved to Florida a few years ago, I met some guys who ran pretty competitively (sub 18:00 5Ks, for you runners out there). I began to run longer distances, maybe 5-6 miles at a time, and I started to pick up the pace one day a week. I brought my own 5K time down from 23:45 to 19:12, and I think I can get even faster. Over time, something that used to seem like work actually became fun. I enjoy it now, and my experiences with running have taught me some things. Here are five lessons from my running career, and how they can apply to management, or to life.

1. Know Thyself. Socrates' famous adage is true in running and in business. If you don't know your limits when you run, you will get hurt. When I race, I am always trying to run the best that I can, but some days I just don't have it in me. Often in 5K races, I start to get sick around 2 1/2 miles, and I have a decision to make. Can I keep going, or should I back off the pace? It all comes down to knowing myself, knowing how I run in different conditions, knowing whether or not I am meeting my time goals, and knowing the difficulty of the rest of the course. Business is the same way. How do you compete with competitors – lower prices, better service, longer warranty? It all depends on what your company does well. You have to know your core competencies before you can figure out how to translate them into your revenue and income goals.

2. Rest/Relax. Running 7 days a week is a sure way to tear up your legs and get burnt out. Working 7 days a week is a sure way to get your body an mind out of balance so you make poor decisions. Sometimes my best runs are after I have taken a few days off so my legs are fresh and rested. Similarly, some of my best work has been done when I have come back from a weekend or a vacation. I remember in engineering school I had a huge design project due on Monday, and spent 14 hours in the computer lab Saturday trying to figure out why it wouldn't work. As the day went on, I grew more and more tired until eventually I had to go home and get some sleep. I came back to the lab at 10am Sunday and the problem just jumped out at me. I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed it the day before. I fixed it and was done in an hour – all the while thinking that I wasted most of my Saturday evening.

3. Crosstrain. Believe it or not, weighlifting, biking, and stretching can all make you a better runner, even if it means running less to make time for them. Likewise, mixing it up at work can lead to a better understanding of the big picture, and make you better at your job. My first job was in fast food, and when I became a manager I pushed people to cross train more quickly than my supervisors liked (because employees were paid according to how many training modules they passed). The reason I did this though, is because someone who only knew how to grill burgers did just that, but someone who knew how to grill and make sandwiches and fries could tell when others were behind and help out accordingly. Five cross trained employees could run the store as efficiently as seven or eight specialized employees.

4. Celebrate the small goals. If you use long-term goals to set your short-term goals and then focus on the short-term goals, your long-term goals will take care of themselves. If you miss a short-term goal, you have time to catch up. Missing a run here and there won't stop you from reaching your race goal, and missing a sales target one quarter doesn't mean your long-term sales goals are hopeless. But hitting all your short-term goals will make the long-term goal seem easy. So celebrate those smaller goals, give yourself a break for crossing a few things off your "to do" list. The positive feelings generated by that will keep you refreshed and focused, and ready to succeed in the long-term.

5. Make it fun. Running can be extremely boring, so do it with some friends. Run a 5-K that goes along with a festival or event in your town. Races can be a lot of fun, especially the ones with free beer afterwards. Work is the same way – it can really suck. Spice it up, be creative, try to challenge yourself and your employees. Help your employees to grow by doing work they enjoy, not just the work you want them to do.

Everybody has their own management style, just like everyone has their own running style. They key to both is to figure out what your strenghts are, and how to compensate for your weaknesses. You don't have to be Michael Johnson to enjoy running, and you don't have to be Jack Welch to enjoy managing. Find your own style and have fun with it. Life is too short not to enjoy it.