Is the CEO a Spartan or a Tough Mudder?

I run lots of obstacle course races. I run Wadi Adventure Race, Spartan, NAS Night Challenge, Desert Warrior Challenge, Tough Mudder, and Urban Ultra races. Here is a pic of my son and I from the weekend, in fact –

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Why do I run these races? I like them. I enjoy them because they’re HARD.

My very first race was 4 years ago – a Spartan race. It was a difficult 5km run in soft sand, with a challenging obstacle to complete every 500m. I carried buckets of rocks up hills, and I climbed over walls that were so high I needed to jump up to reach them.

I swam through muddy swamp water, waded through pools of ice, threw spears at targets, and crawled under barbed wire.

It was so hard that I threw once, and I almost gave up many more times than that.

…But at the end of the challenge, I felt great – I felt like I had ACCOMPLISHED something great. It was very fulfilling, and I even got a medal for completing the course. I was hooked.

So, I started running longer races. The Spartan has a 5km, 10km, and 23km version of their courses. The longer and more difficult the race was and the more effort it took, the greater the sense of accomplishment I felt at the finish line.

Better yet, if I ran all 3 lengths of the Spartan races in one year, I achieved the ‘Trifecta’ and I became a ‘Spartan Champion.’ The challenge, the difficulty, the accomplishment… it was addictive.

That was all until I ran the Tough Mudder, which is an entirely different race. For one, it wasn’t timed. The objective of the race was to merely FINISH it. But here’s the catch: I couldn’t possibly finish it. The obstacles were too difficult, the walls were too high, the chasms were too wide to cross, and the loads were too heavy to lift… unless I had help.

Here are the types of obstacles I had to overcome:

THE BLOCKNESS MONSTER

This obstacle was in a muddy pool of water and you had to climb over a slippery, rotating block. Every time you jumped up to grab the top of it, it rotated towards you. It was impossible to climb over, unless someone was on the other side to push it and keep it from rotating.

You cannot complete this by yourself.

PYRAMID SCHEME 2.0

This obstacle is a slippery slope up. It’s FOUR people high, as high as four people standing on each other’s shoulders. And that’s just how you get up! One person stands at the bottom, supporting a tower of people as they scramble up and over each other. When the last person gets to the top of the human ladder, they reach down and pull the last person up.

You cannot complete this by yourself.

EVEREST 2.0

This is a 5-meter high quarter pipe. You need an all-star sprinter to reach the top of this ramp! Once they make it up, they turn around and offer an arm to pull someone else up – the favour is repaid on.

There are also many 10 foot vertical walls that cannot be scaled unless you have someone else to stand on. And so on.

The Tough Mudder, unlike the Spartan, cannot be completed alone.

Can you imagine my surprise when I entered the event alone, only to find out that I cannot complete it alone?! How would I do it? I learned very quickly that the only way I could make it through Tough Mudder was to help others and by doing so, hope that they would help me in return.

 

I learnt a few things:

1)    I had to be humble enough to ask strangers for help and admit that I couldn’t do it alone.

2)   I had to accept that I would be slower – I had to run at the pace of my team. But they could help me – they reached out their hands to pull me up, I stood on their shoulders and they stood on mine.

3)   Despite us all being strangers, it all felt very natural and didn’t feel awkward at all. We even had a few laughs along the way!

4)   I enjoyed helping others. Even though I could run and reach the top of EVEREST on my own, my instinct wasn’t to carry on and abandon my team of strangers. It was to turn around, lie down on the top of the ramp, reach out my hand, and pull up those who couldn’t make the leap.

 

I saw other Spartans on the course who had entirely missed the point of the race – a solo runner would climb up me or my team mates and receive our help, but rather than stop and repay the favour, they would keep running! My respect for these people who ran the Tough Mudder like a Spartan was really low. I despised them. They used me, and the others around me, for their own gain. Yes, they may have been fast and strong, but I didn’t respect them.

Why am I sharing this story? Because too often, CEOs think of themselves like Spartans. They run through challenges and use people along the way to accomplish things. Then, they take credit for the win and ignore the team that made it possible.

What we need in our CEOs is Tough Mudders. We need leaders who lift others up, slow down, and then reach back to ensure the rest of the team stays together.

CEOs who use their strength and speed to set a pace that keeps the team moving, without leaving any members behind.

CEOs whose natural instinct to help others in business.

Good CEOs ask for help, and reach back to offer it to others. Bad CEOs stand on the shoulders of their people in order to run faster, alone, and finish, without either respect or admiration.

You can’t run the Tough Mudder like a Spartan… but you can definitely run the Spartan like a Tough Mudder.

In all of my upcoming Spartan races, I have a team to run with. Yes, they may slow me down a bit, but that’s the trade-off for others helping me complete the challenge. And it’s a small price to pay for the laughter earned along the way.

In December, I’ll be running the entire Trifecta in 2 days in Oman. Wanna run with me? Let me know.

To get in touch with me for Executive Coaching, please email hello@paragon.ae.