Why doing a triathlon is like leading under pressure

Learning how to do something hard is worth the effort. Like a triathlon, and more specifically an endurance triathlon. A sporting event that takes between five and seventeen hours to complete, depending on how much training you have done. But even the short triathlons will be tough, especially when you are first starting out. A little bit like leadership.

And for anyone that doesn’t know, a triathlon is a swim, ride, run event, where the bike leg is generally the longest leg of the event, compared to the swim and run. I have been doing triathlons since 2008, and have learnt a lot about the sport, about myself, and about leadership during that time. Here is how triathlon and leading under pressure are similar, and how we can take lessons from one for the other.

No matter how many times you have lined up on the start line, the swim leg is a challenge. There is never a time in my life when I am surrounded by more people but feel so alone. We are shoulder to shoulder on this line. Emotions are high, and energy levels are higher. I know that I am about to be in the water, I’ll be struggling for breath, and getting kicked and bumped (the swim is a contact sport) by other swimmers.

For the vast majority of first timers, or even experienced triathletes, the swim leg is not their strongest, so it takes courage and effort, to ‘toe the water’ and to just dive straight in, when the buzzer goes off.

Like leading under pressure:

Jump into the challenge, catch your breath, take the bumps, and keep moving forward toward the buoys (goals)

Then it is time to jump on your bike and go for a little ride. The ride leg is good for thinking time and collecting yourself. I make sure I get my heart rate down, get into a rhythm, and focus on hydration and nutrition. The biggest challenge on the bike is over cooking it and going too hard. Remember you still have a run to do at the end of the bike leg. Most triathletes have had the experience of pushing too hard on the bike and burning their legs for the run.

And of course, follow all the rules on the bike. Don’t draft, don’t litter, and don’t obstruct other riders. Even when there are no technical officials watching. This is the big thing for the fast bikers. They like riding behind other fast bikers. Which is uncool.

Like leading under pressure:

Remember that you have a long day ahead, don’t go too quickly too early, and always do the right thing, even when no-one is watching (integrity)

Now it’s time to run home. The age-old issue for triathletes who get off the bike – they hope their legs still work, and that they can control them. I have felt the jelly-leg effect on

numerous occasions, and it is not pleasant. You want your legs to work, but they don’t. It is a matter of getting composed and knowing that the feeling will come back soon.

But you get through that weird feeling and run (or walk) whatever distance is required. Until you cross that finish line and get the finish line feeling; that is like nothing else on planet earth (big statement). I have completed a range of triathlon distances and have run a marathon at the end of a 180-kilometre ride. Which was tough. Regardless of the distance, most triathletes manage to find some energy to finish strong.

Like leading under pressure:

Remain composed, know that you are getting closer to your goals (even if you are wobbly right now), and the most important thing of leadership – celebrate success when you achieve what you set out to do

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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