Farrar's Faucet: A psychologist’s candid, productive and often humorous take on principled business behavior and better business outcomes.

My work with clients is like the first run of spring!

If you know anything at all about me you probably know I’m a runner. My parents remember me heading out for a run in my neighborhood from the time I was around eleven. At fifteen I got a part time after school job in a supermarket about three miles away, and I would walk home, change, run to work, pack bags and stock shelves until store closing, then run home again.

I’ve been running for a long time. Today my running broke through to a new level and it reminded me of my client work. Here’s how.

This is me just before my first outdoor run of the spring season. It’s a beautiful change of seasons day in Minnesota. The temperature is a relatively balmy 45F but the lakes are still crisp and white with winter’s ice. The trees are still bare yet the snow cover has melted and the first blades of grass are coming through.

I approach my running the way I approach much of my consulting and coaching work.

First, you had better enjoy what you do.

Every now and again I run into a prospective client or an employee in one of my clients who just doesn’t enjoy their work. When I was fifteen I never imagined being able to run a marathon. Now I’m going to be fifty this year and I can’t imagine the sprints and splits I used to do when I was younger. Nevertheless, at each time in my life I’ve matched my expectations to what’s practical and enjoyed the ride. Life’s too short not to enjoy what you do, so a good starting point for everyone is to make sure you love what you’re doing.

So...I enjoy running. I’m heading outdoors for the first time in three or four months when I’ve been avoiding the depths of winter. While it’s been cold and dark I have been running indoors on a treadmill. Since my operation last year I’ve been slowly building back up, grateful that it was probably my fitness that pulled me through the surgery in the first place.

Over the course of winter I have changed my technique quite dramatically. For those of you who are runners, I’ve moved from being a heel strike/toe liftoff runner to a midsole runner. That means I am no longer landing on my heel and rolling forward through my stride until I push off from my toe. Instead, I’m landing on my midfoot and pulling up on my heel to move forward. That’s a very big difference and not at all intuitive, but it’s the way most long distance runners run.

Learning any fundamentally new skill is hard but there are three stages and they apply equally to running or learning a new management competency. The starting point for me was form. First I had to focus on the new way of moving my legs and feet, and I had to practice it over and over until I was doing it right. In the early stage of developing any skill it’s all about technique. I knew getting the motion right from the beginning would mean I had less to “unlearn” as time went on.

The second stage in my transition was range. I started off barely able to maintain my form for more than a few hundred meters. I slowly extended my limit, being able to maintain form for longer and longer. Once I could do that I worked on the other part of my range, the ability to move uphill and down, to maintain my form when I was fresh and when I was tired, and finally, to maintain my form through the whole running repertoire of sprints, jogs and fast walks. All the while I was gradually growing my abilities while still focusing on my technique.

Finally, I could pull it all together and see the effect on my enjoyment, endurance and speed. Speed is the last thing a runner should concentrate on. All things being equal I know I can maintain my form over any distance or type of terrain in front of me. The only thing that varies is the speed and how long it will take. Once I’m thinking about speed I start to see how everything relates together, how little changes here and there improve performance, the fun I get out of my running and how my new technique works successfully across all environments.

Working with businesses and senior executives is exactly the same. First, focus on technique and the few things with the most impact. Second, grow skills and range, developing capacity and confidence. Finally, look at how everything relates and how to maximize results. Focus, Grow, Relate.

I cruised around the lake today at my fastest speed for a couple of years. Excellent. And yes, I really enjoy my work too.

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