This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
I know what stress is. As chairman and chief investment officer for Mawer Investment Management, there are always things to worry about: managing large portfolios, running the business, not to mention taking care of my family – all the stuff that makes life stressful.
I've found that when I'm running, it's the only time in my life that is completely, or almost completely, stress-free. It's an activity where I only have to think about one thing, and that's moving forward by putting one foot in front of the other. For me, this is the definition of simplicity. And so I run – a lot.
Despite the many miles I've logged, I still consider myself to be a mediocre runner. So I respond with a healthy dose of humility anytime I'm asked how I could compete in and complete one of the most gruelling ultra-marathons on earth (Le Marathon des Sables), as well as a "rim to rim to rim" 74-kilometre run across the Grand Canyon and back in one day. While I don't believe I have a "secret recipe" for success, I have continually found that following these seven core principles has helped me immeasurably in running, in business, and in life.
1. Set your sights high to achieve great things. Be prepared and believe.
Even though I'm not particularly gifted as a long-distance runner, I can still do it because I believe in myself to try and to train. If we set our goals too low, we never learn that we're far more capable than we think. We never fully put ourselves in a position where we actually have to test that theory. In running, we have the opportunity to test the mental, physical and emotional barriers of who we are. It might not be fun or comfortable to push ourselves to the absolute limits but, when given the chance, we are far stronger and capable of accomplishing things than we ever imagined possible. All of us can do great things if we give ourselves the opportunity.
2. Support equals success.
The support of my friends during the runs, as well as the support of my family and those back home, was a reminder that most people want us to succeed and are willing to help us achieve our goal if given the opportunity. We sometimes forget about this in our day-to-day work when we've got a job to do and it's done at our desks, by ourselves, between our own ears. Despite the fact we spend the bulk of our time working alone, this is not usually where great things happen. Great things happen as part of a group and as part of a bigger entity. That's how we move forward. That's why there are no corner offices at Mawer. We are a team and this has been one of the biggest reasons behind the firm's success.
3. Challenge yourself. And challenge those around you.
The definition of a challenge is any undertaking or task that you aren't entirely sure you can accomplish. If you're 100 per cent positive you can do something, then it's not really a challenge; it's just a job. Challenges definitely don't have to be physical and can take many forms in our personal and professional lives. In business, like running, I want to help people get on the path where they can enjoy the journey more. This is important and it's a great motivator.
4. Break down long-term problems into small chunks.
Ask yourself where you need to be by the end of six months, three months, by the end of this week … by the end of today. What do I need to do right now? Every day and every moment has purpose for you to build towards something important. Patience and commitment are the mental aspects. Preparation time is different for each person, but your body and mind will get there if you give them enough time. So ask yourself: what do I need to do to get there? Training in Calgary's climate wasn't an ideal training ground when I knew I had to run in 50C weather across the Saharan desert, or in pounding rain over 74 kilometres in the Grand Canyon, so I had to be able to withstand those elements. I know how to run on flat ground, but what about the ups and downs of a canyon trail? Running downhill is more difficult for me than running uphill, because it's so hard on the knees and the quads. Sure, going up is tough, too, but going down is pure misery. It's like investing: going down is not fun, but you have to be prepared and have good advice from those in the know so that you understand what to expect and how to mitigate it. With an investment portfolio, you've got to expect downturns – and these can be difficult and painful times. If you're positioned to withstand the unforeseen, it makes it tolerable and your mind doesn't start to freak out about it. The comparison of running with investment has been helpful to me. When the market is going down, it's the most unpleasant part of investing, because you're losing money. In running, going downhill makes your knees want to pop out of your skin. But if you're prepared, then you know what to expect, you've trained for it, sought out expert advice, and understand that you'll make it through to the end.
5. There's a difference between stopping and quitting.
I learned this lesson during Le Marathon des Sables. Quitting is when you know you could or should keep going, but you don't because it's hard. So you give up. And when you quit, you will always wonder, 'What if?' Stopping is when you need to stop and can no longer go on. When you stop, you know with certainty there is nothing more you can give. You have no regrets. To me, quitting is failure – stopping is not.
6. Have a mental model for obstacles.
If it weren't for this and it weren't for that … I often give whole speeches devoted to this topic. If it weren't for the fact that I just bruised my heel, I'd have a great run. If it weren't for the rain and the temperature, I'd have a great pace down the Grand Canyon and back. There will always be something in your way and that's life. So what are you going to do about that? Nobody goes into a race 100 per cent and nobody's life or career is smooth sailing. You have to find a way to accept the downturns and not let it destroy your whole day, or week, or life.
7. Nothing ever goes according to plan.
My marathons and the Grand Canyon run went much like I expected. I expected them to be hard, and they were. I expected them to be long, and they were. I expected them to place obstacles and challenges in front of me, and they did. I expected I would find a way to push through, and I did. I needed to expect the unexpected, and I did. Nothing went according to plan, but that was the plan – that nothing always goes according to "the plan". Take the north rim of the Grand Canyon, for example. There was snow and a complete whiteout at the end of May. The trail was covered and the sky was a landscape of big, fluffy snowflakes. I had thought there might be a few flakes, but I did not expect it to look like a December snowfall with two centimetres of snow on the ground. Something else that was unexpected? That the Grand Canyon is so staggeringly large.
Jim Hall is the chairman and CIO of Mawer Investment Management Ltd. More about Mr. Hall can be found in the 2016 Report on Business Invest like a Legend series.