I recently spoke with a client who shared a challenge she had with her VP. From her perspective, it seemed like he lacked a sense of urgency at the right time. He leads a team of leaders who are all managing multiple complex projects that, in the end, are interdependent for the final product to work.

At one point, I asked her about the team and project results. In reality, it sounded like people were getting along, and the projects were being completed on time. But it’s his response in meetings to challenges or what she perceives is his lack of intensity that she can’t quite figure out.  

Her story got me thinking of another leader who said to me, “I don’t understand. Last week he was ‘on,’ and he got so much done, and this week it seems like he hasn’t done anything.” Again, when I pressed to understand if the work was getting completed, it was but not at the same consistency each week.

This got me thinking; People have different working styles or working energies. As a result, how can leaders leverage this understanding to best lead their teams?

Mid-Distance Runners: When I was in high school, I was a mid-distance runner. My races were a quarter-mile to a mile-long, depending on what the coach decided for that track meet. Mid-distance is an interesting race length because you have to go hard but pace yourself. It requires balance to win. Also, you have to manage your power because you can burn out. Before I understood this, I used to be the first out of the gate, but I’d soon get passed by everyone else as my body could not keep to its initial pace, and I’d run out of steam. 

Ironically, this metaphor still holds true for me today. If I sprint, I burn out – late nights repeated working weekends accelerate my exhaustion levels even if I love what I’m doing. But when I work at a strong and thoughtful pace, I can be quite efficient for a season as long as there are some intentional plans to recharge throughout the year.

Long Distance Runners: Then there are long-distance runners. They can start and go forever. But they don’t really go very fast. They keep to a low intensity and just go and go and go. “Slow and steady wins the race.” Many of you know a marathoner at work; they may not look like they have a lot of urgency, and they also may not put in the extra hours or be really reactive, but they are consistent – month after month, year after year.

Sprinters: Then there are the sprinters. They blast out of the blocks with a high energy level, go for a short distance, and then need a break, often gasping for air with their arms over their head. These are usually the same folks at work who wanted that project done yesterday and keep pushing themselves (and others) harder to move mountains quickly. You might get after-hours emails from them, and they are looking forward to your quick response. That said, secretly, as they are exhausting themselves, they might need to zone out at times or may struggle to be present because their brain simply can’t keep to the pace they’ve set for it.

Seemingly, people’s working styles and energy levels are the same as different runners. However, knowing your own style and understanding your teams’ style is critical. Also, the ability to understand how any bias you have frames your coaching of others can be a game-changer too. Finally, if you can understand the different types of your team members, how they intersect with each other, and yours, you’ll be able to minimize frustration and conflict.  

I want to challenge you to look through a new “runners” lens:

  1. Self-reflect on your energy or “running” style. This can be really useful and grounding. What type of runner have you tried to be? What failed? What’s comfortable? 
  2. Reflect on your team, your boss, and those around you. What type of running styles are they? When do you expect them to move faster or slower? How does that add tension to your working relationship? When do you feel you can’t breathe?
  3. How could these different running styles be valuable? When is a long-distance runner better than a sprinter? How do these different styles add unique value to the team and the end goals?

This week I want you to consider where you are having frustration or conflict with your team. Is it because you expect others to operate at your pace?

Perhaps, a new perspective on your own energy style coupled with an understanding of your team’s style could reduce relational temperatures and improve team performance. Try it out and see!

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