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Learning From Daring to Lead
What does it means to lead? How does one continue leading when the going is tough? Why is it important for leaders to set boundaries and create a work-life balance? Because leaders realize the importance of taking care of themselves first so they can lead others.
Taking care of ourselves first reminds me of the flight attendant’s instructions on what one should do if, God help us, the pressure in the cabin on the airplane decreases. The oxygen masks descend, hanging in front of your face; what’s your first step? Put on your oxygen mask before helping another person. Why? Because if you can’t breathe, how can you expect to help someone else?
Written by Colleen Wietmarschen
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Being positive in a negative situation isn’t naïve; it’s called leadership. ~Unknown
You might be asking yourself what setting boundaries and balancing work and home life has to do with leadership. If leaders don’t respect themselves enough to create boundaries, how can they help others learn it’s OK and imperative to set their own?
This month’s theme takes me back to two previous trainings for half marathons: one as a member of a four-member relay team and one training and assisting a sight-challenged lady. I’ve been an athlete for as long as I can remember; yes, I’m competitive, but it’s always about doing my best and finishing (even knowing I won’t win). My two experiences were different, but looking back, this quote struck home: "Leaders don’t force people to follow. They invite others on a journey." ~Charles Lauer
I invited some friends to join me on a relay team for the Flying Pig Marathon. It’s held every May in Cincinnati, Ohio. We created two teams so everyone would have someone to walk/run with (it’s always more fun when you have a partner). Four members on a relay team; each person walks between six and eight miles. This event is always the first weekend in May. Two friends lived out of town, but we created a schedule and started training in early January. Fast forward four months to the day before the event, our friends came into town, we had dinner, and during our conversations, one of the friends owned up to not training for the race. Are you kidding me? I couldn’t believe it. She was walking the final leg of the race, eight miles. I wanted to scream (if you know me, I know you find it hard to believe!).
Race day, up and at it at 4:30. Race time was 6:30. We arrived at the race, bussed to our respective starting points to wait, and wait, until we saw our teammates heading toward us. Off we went. My walking partner and I were part of the race's third leg, approximately seven miles. By the time we started, the temperature had risen, and it was a hot but beautiful sunny day. During our leg of the race, we decided to walk the final leg with our friend who hadn’t trained. Her partner was running the last leg, and we wanted to make sure Linda would be OK.
As we were coming up on the final part of our seven miles, we saw our teammates, tagged them in, and continued walking with Linda. I’ll suffice it to say it was the hardest eight miles of my life. I literally could not walk as slowly as my friend. It was agony. I was afraid they would shut down the route because we were sauntering. But we were cheering her on, telling her she could do it, having her drink water, telling jokes, and we made it to the finish line. After receiving our medals, we cooled down, had some water and a banana, and Linda went and sat on a step in the shade. She looked up at me and said, “Colleen, if I learned one thing about this, it’s the importance of training.”

The next year a lady reached out to me and asked if I would walk the half marathon with her sister-in-law, Mary Ann, who was legally blind. Sure, I’m up for helping people, and this would certainly be a challenge. Mary Ann and I started training in early January. I drove about 20 miles to pick her up, then drove to a park where we trained. When we first started training, I wasn’t sure how to lead, so I asked what she usually did and followed her lead. I walked on her right side, and she held onto my left elbow. After a few training sessions, she walked beside me without holding my arm. Wow, this was amazing; it was going to be OK.
After four months of training, it was almost race day. During one of our last sessions, I thought of a scenario I hadn’t considered before: what if I had to use the restroom? Although I had never had to on any other race, this was an important discussion. She told me when she walked with her sister-in-law, Mary Ann would continue on her own and her partner would catch up to her. This was not going to work for me. I had anxiety just thinking about what might happen. We decided if there became a need to use the restroom, Mary Ann would wait for me. Race day. We were six-and-a-half miles into the race, and guess what? I needed the restroom. I couldn’t believe it. OK, I handed Mary Ann my phone, told her I’d be right back, and asked her to wait. Dear God, she left. I hustled to catch up (picture thousands of people walking/running the race and bystanders cheering for everyone). Where was Mary Ann? I walked about a half mile and decided I had to have missed her. I retraced my steps back to the Port-O-Let. No Mary Ann. Oh my God.
I raced to the nearest corner, found a police officer, and told her I had lost my walking partner. She said, “well, it’s OK; you’ll see her at the end of the race.” I told her, “you don’t understand. She’s blind.” If there was one funny facet to this scenario, the police officer’s eyes bugged out of her head. “Oh,” she said. “What’s her race number? What’s her name?” Most of the information was in my phone, but I gave her what I could and high-tailed it out of there to find her. I didn’t know if I was angry or scared.
I was looking right and left. I heard sirens and immediately thought something must have happened to her. Fast forward, I arrived at the 11-mile marker, and across the way, at mile marker 12, I saw Mary Ann, walking with her hand on some guy’s elbow. I screamed, “Mary Ann, Mary Ann.” Suddenly, she heard me, looked up, and said, “I’ll be at the finish line.” I was relieved and angry and scared and embarrassed. I broke down and cried as I walked faster, trying to catch up with her. I still don’t know why I didn’t just cross over and go to her, but it was a race, and I felt like I’d be cheating. But how could she do this? After all the time we trained together and the respect I thought we had for each other, she was out for herself. She was selfish.
Fast forward to the last quarter mile or so. Picture a bridge above the street where people could cheer you on from above as you walked towards the finish line. Steve, Peter, and Abbey were there to support us. I knew they were there, but I didn’t look up because I was humiliated, scared, and sad. I reached the finish line, we eventually found Mary Ann, and headed home.
Suffice it to say, I learned several takeaways from these two adventures. As leaders, we do what we can to support people, but the lessons we learn about ourselves are as valuable as helping others.
My tips for leading others and myself in business and life even when the going is tough:
  1. Lead. When coaching others, whether it’s business or training for an event, in order to start, we don’t have to have all our ducks in a row. We can learn about ourselves and the needs of others as we pave the path.
  2. Expect the unexpected. Keep the faith and trust yourself because you know what you’re doing. Life happens. People do what they want no matter what they’re taught and we can’t take it personally.
  3. Set boundaries. Know what works for you, what you’ll accept, and what you won’t, and be OK with your decision.

The following year Mary Ann asked me to walk with her again, and I said no. As hard as it is for me to say no to people, I did what was best for me. This struggle is real for me because I never want to disappoint or not help people, but I can’t be co-dependent either. And to this day, I’m still teased by Steve, Peter, and Abbey because they ask how I could have lost a sight-challenged person on a walk!