Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Many Sides of Leadership

Leadership can assume various positions. These pre-positions orientate the leader to other perspectives, mindsets and decisions. As leaders, we have the choice to operate from different sides: outside, inside, be-side, a-side and side-by-side. So, when we take sides, we are exploring possibilities from a certain side.

By using the language of prepositions (‘pre’ and ‘positions’), we determine the perspectives we can operate our leadership from. We can lead from the front, behind, from the side, and more. Our research has revealed that leadership can operate from five positions of relevance.

This blog (and its mirror website) will attempt to be a source of inspiration, point of departure, and disposition on the diverse topic of Leadership.

(Extracted from Leadership Lessons from Triathlons, 2007-2009)

The Indomitable Spirit of Ironman

The images of ABC’s Wide World of Sports resonate in my mind vividly. It is the image of athletes running the marathon till late night; a Japanese triathlete was ecstatic when he crossed the finishing-line at crawl-pace. I was touched, impressed and shocked; I thought that it was mad to even attempt such a race.

Circa June 2009, I am packing for my trip to Ironman Austria. It will be my eighth Ironman, and it has taking me about five summers to prepare. I have also actively reflected on my decisions to race in this grueling, and some say, extreme sport (again). Isn’t once enough?

What is the intent of doing the Ironman triathlon? As I shared with my friend, Walter Strach III, ‘I was influenced by idiots!’ Besides this fact, I have been inspired and motivated by many triathletes who came and completed before I even began this sport. To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, “I am riding on the shoulders of giants!’

We have our reasons for doing such endurance sports. It may be a decision based on cognition and intuitiveness. Whatever these are, it will be a fairly long day for all participants to complete 226km. The longer a triathlete takes to complete, the more his/her body is exposed to the external elements and internal damage.

Having stated all the misery that one can only imagine subjecting one’s body to, I am personally impressed by those who train! My dilemma is: I hate training, but I enjoy racing. It can be a colossal task to awake on weekends (before dawn), and on days where the weather is unforgiving to swim, ride or run. It reflects on the many qualities and values of leaders. There is method behind the madness. Triathlon may be an individualistic sport, yet we rely on others to spur us on. We also train as part of a team, and we do take turns leading and encouraging each other on.

Whatever time it takes to cross the line, the participant deserves his moment of his achievement. This is something that you remember for the rest of your life. Pain is a partner that we travel alone with. So is regret, for not finishing when you can.

‘Swim 3.8km, ride 180km, run 42km – brag for life!’ I like the sound of these original words uttered by John Collins.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fit to Tri

If the shoe fits, wear it! So goes the saying.

I tend to get serious and unsightly blisters after a marathon. My informed triathlon buddies attribute it to poor shoe fitting. Some believe that cotton socks are to blame, and synthetic fibres are better in allowing moisture to drain away from active feet. If your feet are wider at the toes, then narrow shoes (however attractive they may be) will be useless.

The same goes for bicycles. If you have a poor bike fit, it can cause strain on your back. Riding in an aerodynamic position for prolonged periods can stiffen your body into poor posture. The time spent to feel comfortable on a ride, is surely worth the investment.

When a new staff doesn’t fit into an organization, he may quit. That is what the probation period is for. It gives both employees and employers a chance to test each other out. Leaders must learn how, and when to let people go. If the staff is unmotivated and unhappy, the best thing we can do for us is to let them go. If a staff is frequently ill, late for work, or wantonly takes last-minute leave, he may be deliberately sabotaging his career. Either re-fit, him with a revised job description or he will end up a misfit in your organization.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

In Praise of a World Record

This evening, at 9.40pm, Singaporean illusionists J C Sum and ‘Magic Babe’ Ning established a new world. The dynamic duo performed 15 illusions in 5 minutes, in open-air conditions, without missing a beat. Despite the nagging humidity, a large audience of hundreds of tourists, locals and shoppers were enthralled by this highly ambitious challenge.

Emcee, Cyril whipped the audience into enthusiastic response, beforehand. Prior to the attempt, videotaped footage of a previous stunt (upside-down, blindfolded, straitjacket escape), set by Ning a week before was shown on two giant-screens.

I met Mr Ong Eng Huat, President of the Singapore Book of Records. He was present with his colleagues to act as adjudicators for a new national record. According to him, Singapore has positioned itself well with a significant number of world records. He presented the illusionists with an official certificate for their national record. President of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM), John Teo presented JC and Ning with a plaque as recognition of their special achievement.

I also met Sin Yong, NUS medical student and a national record holder for the longest card throw of 29.8 metres (set in April 2008). He is focused on attempting the world record in a few years’ time.

Broadcast journalists from the region lined up for one-on-one interviews with the beaming illusionists. MagicSeen UK, a publication for magicians, sent Graham Hey from London to cover the event. Reporters from the Singapore-based website Red Dot Magic, were also present to cover the event.

As a point of interest, Olympian wheelchair athlete Dr William Tan completed 7 marathons across 7 continents in 26 days, 17 hours, 43 minutes and 52 seconds in 2008. Another Singaporean, Dr Kua Harn Wei was the first Singaporean (and world-ranked) to complete a Deca-Ironman in 2006; that is 10 Ironman triathlons over 10 days for a total of 2260 kilometres!

Let us know when you are attempting a world record. We are always on the lookout for leaders in their field of physical and mental prowess.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Setting A World Record

On Saturday, 27 June 2009, at 9.30pm in Central Mall, I will serve as adjudicator for an unusual national and world record. As one of the panel of judges, I will keep count of the number of completed grand illusions set by two illusionists. Billed as the Ultimate Record, J C Sum and ‘Magic Babe’ Ning will attempt to perform 15 illusions within 5 minutes. The current, unofficial world record is ten illusions, set by Hans Klok of the Netherlands.

The International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) Ring 115, Singapore will field three representatives. The Ring’s president, John Teo; committee-member Betsy Teo; and I (vice-president) will be present to ensure that things add up.

Essentially, this is a brave attempt by the dynamic duo, as it has never been done. It will be the first of its kind in the world and should place Singapore on the world map. I hope to announce a world record in my next post.

Please come and support the event, and our two leading illusionists!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ironman Voice of Asia


You will be familiar with Whit Raymond if you are either a participant of spectator at one of the many world-class events emceed by him. He is a permanent fixture in the AVIVA Ironman 70.3 Singapore since 2007. Participants of Ironman Malaysia were suitably impressed when this multiple-Kona Ironman finisher did his race briefing for the Japanese contingent – entirely in Japanese! He is very much at home speaking in English or in Japanese. Whit has the ability to bring the energy up with his use of music and wit. He always closes with an ACDC song, which fans have come to accept as his signature piece as well as anthem. His style is, undeniably, different from the equally respected Mike Riley. Whit’s philosophy towards triathlons is simply, have fun! Yes, he used this ‘f’ word (fun) on me several times during the interview. Have fun!

Multiple-Ironman finisher, Clifford Lee from Singapore describes Whit: ‘I think Whit is a very professional voice talent. Apart from his vibrant voice quality, he is able to manage changes time to time to keep the event smooth running. With fabulous linguistic abilities, he is able to make everyone feel at ease. In addition, I believe he does some research/homework on events he covers...like background of high-profile athletes. With such information, he is able to discharge his work diligently. Over and above the points mentioned, he has a sound knowledge of the sport he covers. This gives him an even better position for the job.’

From the pre-race briefing to pre-dawn, pre-race announcements at Ironman triathlons Whit’s assuring voice can be heard. He will be the last person standing (and announcing), as the last participant crosses just before midnight. At the time of this interview, Whit was between two major engagements: the Phuket Marathon, and Ironman Japan 2009. Such is his popularity: a heavy schedule, repeat bookings, and a jet-set lifestyle. Fortunately, for us, he took time off to share a Transition moment with us.

Full name: Whitridge Raymond

Age: 49

Status: Single

Profession: Event Commentator

Years in profession: 17

City of Residence: Napa, California USA

Years in triathlon: 24 (since 1986)

Pet peeves: Smoking

Hobbies: Music/books

Favourite Music: Everything goes...almost

Favourite Film/Book/Author: Film - Indiana Jones series; The Alchemist; Paulo Coelho

Enrico Varella: Thank you for making time to do this interview, Whit.

Whit Raymond: Enrico, you have some interesting questions…

EV: An occupational hazzard, I assure you. Walk us through your active lifestyle, Whit. You run a successful business as global emcee and race-announcer. We know you as the “Voice of Ironman in Asia’. I have met you in Ironman Malaysia, China and Singapore. Describe your work schedule for us in the next few weeks.

WR: I will be at the Phuket Marathon next weekend, then off to IM Japan.

EV: Where else after that?

WR: Kona Marathon, after Phuket and Japan. Then, IM UK in early-August.

EV: What a busy schedule! Now, how did you start on this unique, profession?

WR: My first announcing job was in1993 at the Hawaii Ironman!

EV: You speak fluent Japanese. Was that your major at university?

WR: I studied Japanese at University.

EV: That must surely be one of the catalysts for your work, and your exceeding popularity with the Japanese and Asians. You must be hoarse after each event. How do you keep your voice in peak shape?

WR: Hydration is very important! And rest!

EV: Other than triathlons, what else do you do to keep active? We have seen you running [fast] before our event begins.

WR: In-line skating. Telemark skiing, and mountain-biking.

EV: You told me that you will not do the full Ironman format in Kona anymore as you do not agree with the heat…is that correct?

WR: No! I like the heat!

EV: My mistake. It must have been the Hainan heat in my head. Anyone who loves the heat deserves our utmost respect! Tell us more about your affinity with triathlons and endurance race. How did you start on this type of sports, and then lead into your profession?

WR: Triathlon has been a huge part of my life for a very long time. I have always said, SWIM, BIKE, RUN - HAVE FUN! My first Tri was in Japan, my 4th was IM Japan and I qualified for Hawaii then: 1986.

EV: When taking on these physical challenges, how do you maintain your work/life/family balance?

WR: It's difficult but with proper balance and planning it can work.

EV: How does an active physical lifestyle tie in to your work as an entrepreneur and businessperson, as well as a leader?

WR: I like to try to be fit because it feels good, gives me energy, and feeds my brain with energy.

EV: What made you do Ironman? How many years did you train before you qualified for Kona?

WR: I qualified my first year (1986) in my 4th Triathlon. I did Kona 5 times.

EV: Bloody-O! Five times. Amazing. Which has been your favourite Ironman event, and non-Ironman event you have emceed for?

WR: Ironman Japan, and Laguna Phuket Triathlon.

EV: Do you model your work after a mentor? How does Mike Riley fit into your working model?

WR: Mike Reilly taught me a lot over the years and he is a great guy. I totally respect him. I have my own style however, and tend to do the things I think will create energy and enthusiasm and will hopefully motivate people and energize the event.

EV: Which you do well, undeniably. Why the Ironman triathlon? What started you on that?

WR: Just fell into it.

EV: Who are your biggest influences in your life? Why them?

WR: My daughter...she is 16 now...I am motivated by her to be the best father I can be for her.

EV: Good on you, mate. What is your strategy for racing? Is it ‘all or nothing’, or ‘one step at a time’, or ‘be the best’?

WR: Have FUN! Swim, Bike, Run - HAVE FUN!!!

EV: What mental skills/anchors do you use once you really start hurting (in a race) and the grizzly bear climbs on your back telling you to just walk or quit?

WR: I don't like to walk...

EV: I can definitely relate to that. How do you stay motivated to repeat similar challenges once you have ticked the box, i.e. Ironman triathlon World Championships in Kona?

WR: Triathlon is FUN! I like doing fun things in life.

EV: That’s that ‘F’ word again. How did you decide to become an entrepreneur? Were you ever a ‘corporate slave’?

WR: I have always worked for myself but have also been in the corporate world. I have a tendency to like to do my own thing...

EV: You are an entrepreneur. How long have you done this?

WR: I have been announcing events since 1993.

EV: What have been your major achievements?

WR: Ironman Hawaii, Xterra World Championships, Raid Adventure World Championships.

EV: What was your proudest moment in your profession?

WR: Proudest moment? Too many cool moments to mention!

EV: How has Ironman training and racing benefitted you, both personally and professionally?

WR: Triathlon training and racing has kept me fit and allows me confidence to work hard and play hard!

EV: What’s next on the list of ‘to do’ or ‘to conquer’ list?

WR: More TV jobs. I currently do many television voiceover jobs and would like to do more of those.

EV: What is your philosophy towards life? The host of ‘The Amazing race’, Phil Koegan wrote a book ‘NOW – No Opportunity Wasted’. What is your take on that?

WR: Life is so precious! Never miss the chance to LOVE and to tell those you love that you love them!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Leadership of The Underdog

Underdog: a person who is expected to lose in a contest or conflict; A victim of social or political injustice.

It all began when unassuming mobile-phone salesman, Paul Potts sang Nessun Dorma in Britain’s Got Talent. He won. Recently, Susan Boyle sang from Les Miserables and won runner-up. These two performers boosted YouTube ratings, with Boyle raking over 100 million viewing hits so far.

Few expected these two to qualify during their auditions. However, they sang their way to the audiences’ hearts when they surprised with their awesome pipes. The human emotions of shock, surprise and amazement can quickly shift one’s beliefs and paradigms.

Is the underdog a leader? Surely, despite the lack of expectation over their likelihood to win, are they leaders?

The underdog could be the calculated risk of the bookers and punters. Some people bet on the underdog. The odds may be lower, however the payback is potentially higher. Therefore, the underdog has more perceived value when they win. Plus, when underdogs win there is, invariably, more drama and emotional connection. Who doesn’t want the underdog to win?

Rocky Balboa was the underdog throughout the Rocky films. He persevered and his relentless persistence paid off, eventually, despite far more youthful, popular, or genetically advantaged opponents. Leadership incorporates qualities like these: patience, persistence, diligence, faith, and resilience. The Karate Kid was not expected to win, however, he triumphed over his fear as he led with his heart. Underdog brands compete in the global arena, oftentimes in very compelling positions. Do people remember number 2? Avis cars said they would try harder. Creative Technologies still persists and has been resilient in the face of Apple’s iPods. Apple has defied the mainstream by creating its own niche operating systems. Pepsi Cola versus Coca Cola. Virgin Airlines going one on one with British Airways. Linux and Microsoft. A little Red Dot of a country within a vast global economic landscape. Underdogs exist and persist. Will they eventually reign supreme?

Leadership Lessons: Do you play the underdog? How do you increase your odds of winning? How do underdogs create their presence within a fierce and ferocious pack?

Voices That Care

‘Hey, thanks! I was going through your blogs. It is, indeed, quite amazing that you can find the time to work, train, think, blog and read all at the same time! I guess if I were able to train smart, it will indeed free up more time for my family and for myself. But it is indeed great to learn from your experiences.’

‘Congratulations on getting the #1 page position [on Google Search and Yahoo Search] for your blog! I only got you started but the writings are your good work. Keep on writing, and keep on tri-ing.’

‘Greetings magic marathon miracle man! Once again, congrats on what you are co-creating. It is wonderful to be connected. I have been following your amazing triathlon adventures, congrats to you! And congrats on making it to Number 1 on Google Search, and at making the connection to leadership! And this new adventure is certainly a wonderful challenge/adventure/opportunity as well: the 3-year blog challenge. And your blog is amazingly comprehensive...have subscribed and will pass it on.’

EV says: Thank you, dear readers for making my life more meaningful and richer for the experiences. Leaders can draw sustenance, inspiration and motivation through their generous supporters.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Staying Actively In Touch

I received an electronic mail from, Douglas O’Loughlin my former-lecturer at the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) today. He will be helping to organize an Organisational Development (OD) conference in Hyderabad, India. If you are a serious practitioner of OD, do consider attending GODS – Global OD Summit 2009 (19-22 August). It is a conference that was initiated and launched by practitioners passionate about the field of people development. This is a global tribe worth paying attention to!

My e-mail reply launched two highly positive and encouraging replies from him, and I am glad I did make the return move. To reiterate, staying actively in touch is very important for our today, and for our tomorrow. In a world fascinated and consumed by social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Squidoo, etc), it is so easy to ignore those on our lists of friends. Yes, we may have a large population of registered friends, yet how actively do we stay in touch with it?

Thus, give a friend or acquaintance an e-mail message, text message, or telephone call (by the way, it is not a tele-conversation!). You may be surprised by how fast you will receive a reply. If the Law of Attraction works, then you should receive a reciprocal response for your efforts shortly.

Be high-tech, but also high-touch! Having a cache of impressive, digital equipment does not make us a more connected being. Connect with others. Be deliberate. Be decisive. Work the technology to your advantage. Call a business associate, ex-colleague, teacher, exercise-buddy, or former-manager out for coffee. Exercise your communication skills. Stop procrastinating! Leaders lead. Lead on!

Leadership Lessons: Be active in your networking and networks. Start writing and calling people. Make that human connection.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Under the Big Top

“Circus lights…under the Big-Top world. Wondering where I am…on the wire…” ~ “Faithfully”, Journey.

When I last attended a convention in Las Vegas, I was determined to watch some of the popular musicals and acts. Therefore, I attended two productions under the brand of Cirque Du Soleil: Mystére and Zumanity. Mystére was a circus and mega-spectacle of light and sound. The latter was an adult-orientated, circus-musical with sexual and sensual themes.

One thing for sure, Zumanity will never make its way to Singapore because of several factors: quasi-nudity, alternative lifestyle, and coarse language. Actually the coarse language was delivered brilliantly, in sleight of mouth, by the androgynous emcee/host.

That would have meant that I have covered the A to Z of Cirque Du Soleil - Circus of the Sun - I have gone full circle: from Allegria to Zumanity. Add to that, Saltimbanco and Mystére and those are quite a few circus acts. The circus is an exciting place to be in. Under the Big Top, resides talent and courage of a physical nature. Uber-biker, Lance Armstrong with his seven consecutive Tour de France wins; the late-one-legged Canadian runner, Terry Fox; and the remarkable Hoyts are listed under physical courage.

The way each Cirque Du Soleil production runs is impressive. Each performer also doubles up as rigger and belayer. The “belayer” supports each acrobat by managing the ropes of the aerial performer. It is pure teamwork for each member of the huge family of performers.

This modern circus is run with clockwork precision. It is all about timing, alertness, pacing, consideration, and responsibility. From a team perspective, it is about complete participation and involvement. The acrobats, musicians, singers and clowns support the ringmaster to get the show going. Like all the acrobats who are successful, each manoeuvre requires delicate balance, strength and agility. Every skill is honed to perfection. Every move is deliberate and unhurried.

Famous magician, Dai Vernon (aka The Professor) used to advise his students: “Nothing disarms and deceives an audience more than a deliberate and unhurried presentation, executed with neatness and precision.”

P T Barnum was a renowned ringmaster of marketing as well as the circus. The Barnum and Bailey’s Circus survives today, a testament to the power of strategic communication and marketing. Without ticket sales, there will be no audience. With no audience, there is little in the way of a show. Show business is about putting up a show for the paying audience.

It is all about performance. And it applies to us all, not just circus acts. Perform well in whatever you do – it pays.

Leadership Lesson: How do you run your own show? How do you involve all your team-members? How do you pursue personal mastery in your area of expertise?

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Meaning In What We Do

Dr Viktor Frankl was incarcerated in the Nazi concentration camps during WW2. He painfully watched his family die – one by one – before him. However, he lived to relate his story and founded a new form of therapy called “logotherapy”. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he discusses the notion of reason, and reasoning.

According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: 1) By creating a work or doing a deed; 2) By experiencing something or encountering someone; and 3) By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

People often ask WHY? I challenge WHY NOT? And, as a corollary to my gauntlet-in-your-face display: WHY NOT NOW? Our need “to know” can be infectious. Not knowing can be crippling. There is so much we may be juggling in our lives now that we lose focus at times. When was the last time you took stock over what you did? And, conduct an inventory check, personal skills audit, and document our milestones of achievements?

Apparently, Bryan Dyson, the former CEO of Coca-Cola feels that we juggle 5 different balls: a health ball, a family ball, a friend’s ball, a work ball and a spirituality ball. Four of the five are made out of crystal. If we drop them, they're going to shatter. Only one ball is made out of rubber and bounces back: the work ball. Now, is this the ball you wish to focus on? Do you want to lie on your deathbed lamenting: ‘I wished I spent more time at work!’?

Have we gotten it wrong? Have we gotten our balls confused? As a Juggling Coach, I teach my students to appreciate the many leadership lessons drawn from this powerful, tossing activity. The balls represent whatever matters to you (In the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”, cheese is anything that you want it to be) in your life now. How do you manage to keep them all in the air? What happens if any of the balls fall?

A Juggler is prepared for the balls to fall. Dropping balls is part of the act. In Las Vegas, I have watched professional jugglers “goof” (intentionally) as it creates for better “drama”, and therefore meaning for the audience. Perhaps, in a perverse way, we enjoy watching somebody else fail or falter. Yet, we also root for their victory when the juggler succeeds - eventually. With elastic balls, bouncing delivers the ball back to the same height that it fell. Juggling teaches us a sense of timing and pacing. We determine the pathway of each ball, and we decide how fast or slow we want to go. The motivation (or pressure) comes from within.

Some authorities of human learning are of the opinion that the Western model of learning is too mechanistic; too simplified for Eastern philosophies. Perhaps, in wanting to find a more effective way of sharing and teaching we may resort to models that are simpler in nature. Models contribute to a paradigm but they should not, in themselves, be our paradigms of inertia and resistance.

To my Juggling Students – keep juggling and enjoy the journey. If the balls drop - they drop. Pick them up and keep going! Juggling is about MOVING THE BALLS – not catching them. Attempt it with durians the next time – see how far you are willing to go! Just make sure that your hands are protected (with wire-cutter gloves), or else you may not go past the your first toss (or the first “nose” for the few of you). Observe and adjust!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Are We Promoting Mediocre Performance?

Is there a certificate for mediocrity? In a world of averages, and the Law of Averages, what do you bat? What is your scorecard?

Do you complete things just to please others? Do you do something because you have no choice? Do you finish something, or else?

When a student graduates from a course of workshop, what does he/she get?

· A certificate of completion

· A certificate of achievement

· A certificate of participation

· A certificate of competency

What did they actually learn? Are the students aware that they have learnt? How do they know they have learnt?

Now, when you shift this intellectual recognition into higher gear, like a diploma, degree, and post-graduate degree, what does that really mean? Donald Trump (in his TV series, The Apprentice) continually challenges the age-old question: Book-smart, or street-smart? Well, few would dare argue with Mr Trump since he is financially successful: he has established himself as being business savvy, possessing business acumen, and is financially intelligent. In my equation of success, I tend not to accommodate those successful people who already come from money.

I like the notion of alternate degrees, University of Life, practitioner certification, and the like. Seth Godin conceptualized and realized his 6-month Alternate MBA (SAMBA) course for nine successful candidates. There were overwhelming requests for this unusual internship! Perhaps, that is why Executive MBAs are popular with mature, experienced corporate leaders.

I recall at one time Robert Kiyosaki’s book ‘If You Want To Be Rich & Successful, Don’t Go to School’ was banned. [The book has since been retitled, for marketing reasons]. It is interesting that the censors did not read between the lines. So much for book-smart! People do interpret what they read, in whichever way they want to.

Seriously, attempt to aim for mastery in at least one skill or competency in your life. Stop being average! Stop being mediocre! Do your best!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Decisive Moments

Yesterday, I taught a mini-workshop on decisiveness to middle- and senior-managers of an international pharmaceutical company. According to Gary Yardley and Jan Kelly of PIPS Pty Ltd, Decisiveness is one of the three dimensions of leadership. The other two are Diligence and Discernment.

Is decisiveness an important attribute of leaders? Imagine your leader being constantly indecisive. How would you deal with that? Consider the consultative style of leadership, where the manager relentlessly pursues your opinions. When they attempt to appease the majority, are they making compromises?

What is the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur photographer? Both know how to take good photographs, but the professional photographer knows when to.

The late-French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the term ‘decisive moments’. World-class photojournalist, Dewitt Jones describes it as ‘turning the ordinary into the extraordinary’. In endurance races such triathlons, there are many decisive moments for us. In Craig Holland’s recent article [Are You Having Chicken Rice?], he encourages us to be clear and committed during our Transitions. Precious seconds, and even minutes may be lost through carelessness. If we are unable to discern between opportunity and crisis, then we may forego moments where we can realize our potential. Leadership is also about helping others realize their potential.

Many managers and executives concern themselves with what a good decision is. As my astute students pointed out yesterday, how good or bad a decision was, will depend on the results. Therefore, we can evaluate decisions only after we measure the outcomes. Decisions can range from snap judgments to deliberation; with levels of recklessness and calculated risk.

The only way we can get more decisive is to make more decisions. You made a decision to read. Now, make a decision to do something.

Friday, June 19, 2009

SF Tri Guy: Triathlon Family’s Foreign Talent

On the Triathlon Family forum, he is known as ‘SFTriGuy’. ALAN GERALDI is co-founder of the San Francisco Triathlon Club (now, one of the largest and strongest triathlon clubs in the USA). This busy lawyer has raced in several Ironman triathlons and numerous ultra-marathons (think multiples of 42km)! His highly insightful blog reads surreal, as it describes in detail his races, motivations, sensations, epiphanies, and observations. You can almost feel his pain, discomfort, joy and tears in the footprints of his writing. Alan has been featured on local television about executives who run to work – marathon-distance! Whether as a lawyer, parent or athlete he is every bit as committed to his purpose.

Alan’s shaven head, well-groomed, tough all-American look, belies his gentle confidence and competitiveness. TriFam co-founder, Teo Ser Luck describes him: Alan is someone I look up to. He is helpful and a real professional in his corporate work as a legal counsel. He looks mean on the outside (maybe due to his martial arts training) but a real gentleman on the inside. A friend that I am so glad to have.’

There is one word that aptly describes an amateur athlete who has beaten professional athletes to the finishing line in Ironman triathlons, and completed some of the most challenging ultra-marathons such as Badwater - Fierce!
Full name: Alan R. Geraldi
Age: 44
Status: Married
Children: 3 sons (11-year-old, Brandon and twins 5-year-old Aidan and Christopher) and 11-year-old stepson, Connor.
Profession: General Counsel & Senior Vice-President of Panalpina, Inc.
Years in profession: 20 years in transportation industry law
City of Residence: San Francisco, California
Years in triathlon: Did my first sprint triathlon in 1984; first half-Ironman 1985.
Pet peeves: Egos - they have no place in any sport.
Hobbies: Running, running, running and other endurance sports.

EV: Alan, how did you become associated with Triathlon Family? Who were the first few people you were acquainted with?
AG: I became associated with the Family through my good friend, Teo Ser Luck. He and I used to work together and have done some training (during company meetings) and a race (Desaru Long Distance Triathlon) together. He knew I was a co-founder of San Francisco Triathlon Club (now one of the largest and strongest tri-clubs in the U.S.A.) and we spoke often about his desire to help start a triathlon club in Singapore. I have had a chance to "meet" through e-mail and the forum, so many fantastic TriFam members. I still consider Ser Luck a close friend despite our inability to see each other in person for quite a few years.

EV: Walk us through your active lifestyle. You are a successful lawyer, and very active in ultra-marathons. How do you do it?
AG: It is all a balance - a balance based upon demands, priorities and rewards. Sometimes, my work demands more so my sport gets less. Sometimes, work is not as demanding so I can dedicate more to sport. I do most of my training during the week on my "lunch break". But since my workday is so busy, I may take my break at 09:30, 12:00, 2:15, 3:30 or 5:00. I need to be flexible. On weekends, I put in my longer workouts. When I travel, I always bring my running gear (can't pack a bike and hotel pools are the size of bathtubs). I always try to make sure my family does not get any less of my time no matter the demands of work or sport.

EV: You used to do Ironman triathlons. How many did you do, and your best performance?
AG: I have done Ironman Florida, Ironman Austria (still my best bike split at 5:30), Ironman USA Lake Placid (2 weeks after IM Austria) and Ironman Canada. My best was IM Canada, in 10:16:30.

EV: Boy, are you fast! So, did you come from a swim, riding or running background?
AG: I started running and moved into 10K's and then marathons.

EV: Why did you switch to marathons and ultra-marathons?
AG: I moved to ultra-marathons, recently, as my present work leaves me little time to train on the bike for Ironmans, and I had always heard of the first 100-mile (161 km) race in the USA called Western States 100. That is a few hours from where I grew up, so I decided to train and try that. I entered my first ultra, 2 years ago and ran a double-marathon in 8 hours 31 minutes.

EV: Other than running, what else do you do to keep active?
AG: I do some weight lifting, stretching and still try to get on the bike. I try to do some hiking, also. I am entered in another Ironman this year, so will be back in the pool and on the bike more unless work prevents it.

EV: Good for you, Alan! How did you get started on triathlons?
AG: I was running track and cross-country in college and I read an article about it in a magazine. I decided to train, and soon learned that my cross-country coach was also a triathlete. That was in the early 1980's.

EV: When taking on these physical challenges, how do you maintain your work/life/family balance? Jack Welch stated that it is work-life choice - your thoughts?
AG: As mentioned above - I think it is a balance of demands, priorities and rewards. If all I wanted was the sporting reward, I could ignore very important work and family demands. If all I wanted were the work-based rewards, I wouldn't run or see my kids. The reward I want the most is that my kids have a loving, supportive and complete life. I try to let them "participate” in my sport with me, and I have taken them running, swimming and cycling with me; and to some races whenever possible.

EV: How does an active physical lifestyle tie in to your work as a lawyer?
AG: Work is very demanding and, often, very stressful. Sport helps me balance that by giving me an outlet. In addition, my goal as a lawyer is to "succeed" - whether in contract negotiations, litigation or representing my employer before a government agency. This "theme" follows through in my sports. I hardly ever "win" a race outright, but I can succeed with my goals and best performance.

EV: Do you have any aspirations for Ironman World Championships in Kona? AG: Since 1984. I have come very close (a few spots at Half-Ironman Kona twice, and at Ironman Canada) - and I will continue trying until I do this race.

EV: Tell us more about your Ironman finishes.
AG: Ironman Florida was my first and I bonked at mile 80 on the bike. I bounced back and managed to come through at around 11:30. Ironman Austria was to be my personal record (PR) race - I had dreamed of going sub-10 hours. But I was on the road for work two weeks before the race and came down with a very bad head cold. My lungs and sinuses were congested at the starting line. But, I had a good swim and bike (fastest bike split) but died after the half-marathon. I still finished around 11 hours so it was good - but forced myself to cross that line. Crossing an IM finish line is an experience that never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

EV: Who are your biggest influences in your life, and why?
AG: My father is also a runner - he is over 70 and still does half-marathons. He and I used to train together and he gave me, through genetics, the stubborn streak I need to finish and the "Type A" streak where we always think we could have done better. He is also one of my best friends. My mother, of course, was very supportive of me and helped me get my first bike. My wife and children are what I think about and how I want to make them proud when I am racing. In the sport, Dave Scott was my biggest influence. In the early 1980's I read a story about him racing at Nice. It described his very tough training schedule and strict vegetarian diet. That day I said, "OK" and adopted it. That was 25 years ago and I still follow the same basic principles. In ultra-running, I like Dean Karnazes and Scott Jurek.

EV: What is your strategy for racing? Is it 'all or nothing', or 'one step at a time', or 'be the best'?
AG: Depends upon the race and my goals. I would say it is more like "Run your own race". I have pre-visioned my race and that is what I try to follow. I may have to adjust depending upon my body and race conditions but, overall, I try not to be influenced by someone else or to just go out and get a finish (unless that was my plan at the start). I always try to do my best.

EV: What mental skills/anchors do you use once you really start hurting (in a race) and the grizzly bear climbs on your back telling you to just walk or quit?
AG: I look at all the training, time, expense and I effort I had invested to get to the point and how it would be wasted. I then break the race down into smaller portions: "Just run 10 more miles before walking a bit." "Just ride hard to the top of the hill and then cruise and recover on the downhill." "Try and do a 7:30 minute mile here and then back off and go slower on the incline," etc.

EV: How do you stay motivated to repeat similar challenges once you have ticked the box, i.e. Badwater?
AG: I will admit that is tough. I rarely repeat events (I did Keys 100 for the second time this year - it was the only 100 miles I have repeated). I have no problem finding new challenges and attempting them - but once I have done one, I do admit my mind looks for the next new challenge. Each race is a different challenge - so once I did, say Tahoe Rim Trail 100, when I looked at Leadville 100 I was just as motivated - same distance, different race, different challenges. The same is true with my Ironmans - never repeated one...although I would like to give IM Canada another go!

EV: What lessons from triathlons and marathons have you brought into your profession as a lawyer and self-directed leader?
AG: That when I set a goal - I see it through. It is easy to come up with excuses or be sidetracked, but one owes oneself a duty to finish what one starts. Since 1984, in hundreds of events, to date I only have 2 DNF's - one in a 100-miler in Texas where my piriformis acted up at Mile 17 and slowed me to a limp and left me hardly able to lift my leg by Mile 40. I made it to Mile 80 before time cut-offs forced me out. The other was in a 100-miler called the Barkley. With over-750 starters in its history, it only had eight finishers! It is so tough...so I consider myself in good company. That one is the one I will try again, and is my main race for 2010.

EV: What was your proudest moment in triathlon/ultra-marathons? What have been your major achievements?
AG: IM Canada’s 10:30 is my proudest IM finish - it was a race where I beat some pros and everything clicked. In ultras, my first 100-mile finish at Tahoe Rim Trail was so memorable. But finishing Badwater 135 is one of my proudest. I am also quite proud of finishing two 100-miles (Leadville and Montblanc) 2 weeks apart where each race had less than 50% finishing rate.

EV: How has Ironman training and racing benefitted you, both personally and professionally?
AG: It helps me balance my life and gives me a stress release.

EV: What's next on the list of 'to do' or 'to conquer' list?
AG: I need to do Western States 100, Kona Ironman, and the Barkley.

EV: What is your philosophy towards life? The host of 'The Amazing race', Phil Koeghan wrote a book 'NOW - No Opportunity Wasted'. What is your take on that?
AG: I love the Amazing Race - wanted to try that and Survivor (I actually applied for Survivor once). I agree with the title as written. Many people do waste opportunities but that is just that - a waste. One should seize every opportunity to challenge oneself. That is what defines life.

EV: How do you maintain a healthy business/profession when trying to give 110% towards training?
AG: See "balance" above.

EV: What methods do you use to monitor the onset of fatigue/flat spells/de-motivation during training for such events that come down to you performing at your best on a single day?
AG: Proper hydration and nutrition are the keys. Of course, a solid training base is essential. I "listen" to my body. By now I know what to expect and if my body is not delivering, I react and "treat it".
Photograph Collection: Courtesy of Alan Geraldi