4 Lessons Running Taught Me About Being a Leader

Endurance training comes in handy at work, too

From being captain of my high school track and cross-country team to running 12 half marathons, and two full marathons, endurance training has been a part of my life since I was 15.

When running was no longer enough to keep me captivated (and injuries forced me to pull back due to the incessant pounding on my joints), I turned to biking, gradually building from weekly classes in the studio to annual 75-plus mile rides. I even just signed up for my first-ever triathlon, something I never imagined I'd want to do—but that seemed like the perfect next step in pushing my boundaries.

This innate desire to see what I'm capable of has manifested itself in ways far beyond just physical activity. It's made me push harder in all aspects of my life. So today, National Girls & Women in Sports Day, seemed a fitting opportunity to share some of the tools and opportunities that endurance training has given me as I've worked toward becoming a better businessperson and leader.

I can only hope what I've learned will inspire the next generation of runners and leaders.

Endurance sports are so very mental. Creative work is the same.

Every time I line up for a race, no matter how many times I've done a particular course or distance before, the experience is different. Sometimes I feel great. Sometimes I feel horrible. Sometimes I want to run until I can't move. Other times I want to stop after one mile. But no matter what, I keep going (unless seriously injured, of course—safety first!). I just need to remember to keep my eyes on the finish line.

Similarly, whether at a big company or a small one, there will always be superiors, equals and less-experienced peers reviewing your work from every perspective imaginable. Whether creative, account, strategy or beyond, this means no matter how incredible I feel about a campaign, people will poke holes in it. Not because it's bad, but because it's their job to make it better.

Once those holes are poked, I need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to modify the existing work to suit everyone's needs—or even start from scratch. Then I bring it back to the team. They poke. I prod. And we start over again. But no matter what, we keep going, staying focused on that light at the end of the tunnel.

You are stronger than you think you are.

There's that moment in every race—the moment where you are done. But you're not. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to stop in the last six miles of both of my marathons, the moment they call "hitting the wall." But it was my ability to talk myself out of giving up and push on that helped me cross that finish line each time. Just like a tough brief.

When I was a creative assistant at Ogilvy, taking night classes at SVA to get my portfolio together, I'll never forget one of the best pieces of advice I ever got from Steve Kashtan and Lisa Rettig Falcone. They told me: "Always be the team with the most ideas." The ability to keep thinking of different angles or ways in, coming up with fresh ways to tackle the brief, or just having the endurance to keep going when other teams tap out, is just like endurance sports.

A captain's job is to lead the team to success.

To continue the analogy, even the role of captain is a quality that crosses both realms. When I led my high school team, my role was to motivate them. To get them to work harder and push themselves farther while simultaneously being their greatest champion and most ardent supporter.

Today, as I lead my team, the same rules apply. Sometimes one of my team members needs a little kick in the pants to get back on track. Other times, I need to make sure they're not pushing too hard and need to give them a rest day to recuperate. In both instances, I'm at least partly responsible for their successes, and their failures.

Success drives success.

Throughout my tenure in this industry, having met multiple endurance athletes, it's clear that my "sports as a means to success" theory is much more than that. There's solid evidence to support it, too. A 2015 study of female C-suite executives found that more than half (52 percent) played sports at the university level, and 80 percent of female Fortune 500 executives played competitive sports at one point in their lives.

I was lucky to have sports in my life growing up, and it's incredibly satisfying to see a number of organizations that recognize the value sports brings to girls' lives. Organizations like Girl Up (and their Sports for a Purpose program, designed to help youth achieve gender equality in sports) and Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) are gaining traction as they continue teaching girls the skills they need for success and providing the support that will help get them there.

As an added bonus, I'm in a unique position where I have the ability to put female athletes in commercials and onscreen so young women have role models who look like them to look up to. It's this inclination toward seeing what I can do next —how I can make a difference, what part I can play in helping young girls see their potential—that drives me. And, I venture to guess, drives my fellow leaders who are also athletes, too.

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Jamie Silverman
Jamie Silverman is creative director at Berlin Cameron.