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Mark Ashcroft, partner at SEQEL, on how business leadership can resemble an Ironman endurance race:
Things have been either challenging or flat-out tough for many New Zealand businesses over the past five years - especially in the retail, distribution, construction and financial services sectors.
To recap, 2007 was when the slow-down commenced after five years of mortgage credit/property-fuelled growth (which did not constitute true long-term wealth creation for New Zealand). The next year brought more of the same, before the global financial crisis hit hard in late 2008. The hangover continued in 2009, with only a small improvement, while 2010 remained mostly flat.
Last year was touted as the year things would finally turn around. But a very flat economy, a serious earthquake and little benefit from the Rugby World Cup (apart from the feel-good factor) meant more of the same for many businesses. Meanwhile, the drums of the European crisis began to beat.
In 2012 we face yet more uncertainty, with an unstable Eurozone and slow Christchurch rebuild affecting confidence.
There is no end in sight to the tough slog for many New Zealand businesses.
I liken the test for companies to the challenge of completing an Ironman (which involves a 4km swim, 180km bike, 42km run). CEOs and the teams they lead are having their endurance and fortitude tested in a comparable way. With the New Zealand Ironman in early March it seems timely to reflect on what is necessary to sustain a company in these times, or complete one of the toughest physical and mental tests an individual can attempt.
1. Have a clear and realistic goal
Ironman - your goal may be just to finish, or to achieve a personal best or win. Make the goal challenging but achievable.
Business - be realistic with the Board and internal groups when setting goals. Managing up and managing out (to analysts, for example) is crucial. Gains and wins may be more relative - that is, they may mean more in comparison with competitors than in absolute terms.
2. Put your effort into the right areas to ensure you are fighting fit
Ironman - have you trained in the right areas and addressed your weakness/es? A poor running leg can cost an hour or two, compared with 10 or 15 minutes for a bad swim. Prioritise your training and be prepared to make tough calls on where you focus. While swimming may be your favourite activity, concentrating on producing a great run is likely to radically improve your overall result.
About Mark Ashcroft
Mark Ashcroft is partner at SEQEL, the executive recruitment, board appointments and succession planning firm. He has previously represented New Zealand in windsurfing, as well as competing in many endurance events including numerous marathons, three New Zealand Ironmans and the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.