Great Goal – Great Plan.

Even though the “usual” order of things is supposed to involve parents teaching their children, I’m surprised at how often the reverse is true.

Great Goal - Great Plan. Leadership

When my 14-year-old son, Jaden, decided that he wanted to compete in the Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships  (3000M) and be the #1 runner on the high school cross country team as a freshman, they didn’t feel like entirely impossible goals—he’s a talented runner who made the varsity track team as a seventh grader—but even for such a gifted athlete it was certainly ambitious.

Of course he had help and encouragement from me and the rest of the family, but the core of his pursuit belonged to him. And I think that even if I weren’t his father, I would be encouraged by how much intelligence and discipline he brought to that pursuit.

What I realized later is how much his actions reflected the things I teach people (companies) about leadership:

Connecting with the best resources he could find.

Jaden naturally went to his high school coach for help—but he also had another top high school coach from the mid-west in addition to a former Olympian as advisors. As a result, he had a well-balanced team: One member who knew him well, one who understood peak athleticism at his age group and level of competition, and one who had been to the top of the mountain.

  • When great leaders enter into a challenge, they generally begin by taking stock of available resources, casting as broad a net as possible. They seek out experts with experience and a record of success.

Creating a challenging plan.

Working with these advisors, a plan was developed that would have him running 400 miles in the 12 weeks he had to train. This worked out to around 34 miles a week, or nearly five miles a day.

  • Similarly, leaders understand that planning is a very important part of any project. They approach planning as a team exercise and plan as far in advance as possible. Great planning is not an option, it’s a responsibility.


Jaden’s running plan didn’t just call for him to cover the same distance and route every day. Some days he ran a long course, other days he worked through a short-term burst of sprints. Some days he concentrated on getting faster each mile, others on speed, still others on maintaining a strong pace on hilly terrain. His training prepared him for every situation he was likely to face, and some that he would probably never encounter.

  • Leaders know the value of detail and over-preparation. They seek out diverse solutions to maximize their odds of success.

Approaching work holistically.

Jaden and the team of coaches and advisors identified three components that were central to his training. One was running, of course. The other two were nutrition and rest/sleep. For a teenage boy whose friends were spending the summer noshing on pizza, staying up late and sleeping in. Jaden might have found it even harder than running every day to maintain a training table with stretching, ice baths, core work outs, 8:30pm bedtime and his alarm set for 6am. He was sometimes even the subject of friendly teasing, but he never took his eyes off his goal.

  • For leaders, too, it can be difficult to stay balanced and attuned to key priorities—but it’s a critical part of staying competitive.

Working hard every single day.

By far the most challenging aspect of this training program was keeping it up over 12 long weeks. We’ve all seen people—or even ourselves—set into a project with high aspirations, only to let a little slip lead to a bigger setback, and from there into lowering the bar or shrugging the goal off completely. But Jaden kept the same discipline and focus he had on Day 1 throughout his program.

  • One of the most important elements to success for leaders and teams is a commitment to disciplined work—day in, day out, for as long as it takes.

Thanks to his God-given abilities, excellent advisors, a solid, comprehensive plan, and his unwavering tenacity, Jaden worked his way through state and regional qualifying events—and last month he reached his goal of running in the Junior Olympics. He also won his team time trial (5k) and is currently the number one runner on the varsity cross country team.

I’m proud of what he has accomplished, but thinking about the leadership principles he’s absorbed along the way, I’m even prouder of how he got there.

{Image Credit: Petey21 via commonswiki}

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