CEO Lessons Learned from Ironman Distance Triathlons

September 13, 2016

When I was growing up and competing in sports, I had to work my tail off to make up for a lack of natural athletic ability. I wasn’t afraid of the hard work, however, and often outperformed the naturally gifted athletes. I was tall, lanky and generally uncoordinated.

For this reason, I have always admired people who pushed themselves to the limits physically doing things like climbing Everest or swimming across the English Channel and I aspired to be like them.

This ability to work harder and smarter to accomplish goals has served me well in my career and has shaped the culture we’ve built at GadellNet. I have learned that running a company can feel like you’re climbing Everest at times, but there is nothing like the view from the top. Here are the top 7 lessons I have learned from competing in Ironman competitions that apply to running a company:

1. Confront the Brutal Reality

If you can’t swallow the fact that you are going to have to make what seem like impossible challenges your company’s past, you aren’t confronting the brutal reality. The brutal reality is that it won’t be easy and it will take long hours and hard work. Accept that and move forward to accomplishing your goals. Acknowledge your weaknesses, create a plan to remedy and tackle accordingly.

2. Measure everything

You’re making progress, that much is certain. If you don’t measure absolutely everything, you won’t know what you can attribute that growth to and where you still need to get things on track. Measuring everything means you will grow and better yourself and your business at the rate you’re aiming to. GadellNet has KPIs for everything, and it helps us understand where we need to focus our efforts.

3. Celebrate the Small Milestones

The celebration shouldn’t be saved for the end of an exhausting triathlon when you have met your goal or at the end of a quarter when your team has been burning the midnight oil for months on end. Celebrating the small milestones and allowing yourself to recognize greatness, even before the goal is met, allows you to have the mental stamina to move on toward your goals. When you allow yourself to look at how far you’ve come, you have a renewed sense of determination as you press on.

4. It’s not easy, and if it was, everyone else would be doing it

It’s not easy, but it is worth it. That is how you should view your business and your aggressive goals. Having top notch customer service, superior products, helpful staff, and a great culture are hard fought, but it sets our company apart. It is worth putting in the effort. There are times, at GadellNet, where even the most optimistic person probably wanted to leave to go to a company without aggressive growth targets and customer service standards. But, those that stayed have been rewarded with the knowledge that they are a part of something special.

5. We all want to quit at some point

While training for each triathlon I have competed in, at some point, I wanted to quit. But you press on. You make it through the times of doubt because usually there is a breakthrough on the horizon. If you don’t push yourself when you want to quit, you won’t swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles in a single day, or accomplish that equally grueling growth goal in your company. Wanting to quit doesn’t mean you have failed, it means you need to press harder.

6. We cannot succeed alone

When training for a triathlon, I can’t do it without the support of my family, my trainers, and my workout partners. They each play a key role in my success. I am not a one-man show in my company, either. It takes my whole team to be successful. I know I do not have the knowledge, skills, or capacity to do the jobs of everyone in my company. I rely on them for success. It’s not weakness when you rely on others, and that is something Ironman competitions taught me right off the bat.

As a leader, my father always taught me to “know what you don’t know” – easily the best wisdom I’ve received as CEO. I’m not good at a lot of things, and focus on surrounding myself with those that complement my weaknesses.

7. There is always room for improvement

Getting your mile time down to a PR is great. It might mean you just accomplished a huge goal. But you can still improve. You can shave off more time or hold that pace for more miles. As CEO, after I see my team blast through one aggressive goal after another, it is reaffirming for me that there is always room for improvement. There is always some area of your business you can make better. Your process, your team collaboration, your sales pitch, your efficiency, there is always something that can be tuned up.