Are rabbits the key to a successful business?

I’ve been living in Portland part time for the past few years now, and I’ve gone on a handful of group runs from running shops, parks, and breweries all over town.

There’s a group run hosted by a running shop in my neighborhood that I’d been meaning to try, and I finally got to it the other day. I jogged the mile-or-so from my house down to the store, planning my arrival so I would up a few minutes before the run was supposed to start.

Upon arrival, I found about 10–12 people milling around in the store, all decked out in running gear, and it looked like I was in the right spot. After a few minutes of awkward milling around and waiting, I heard people start shuffling toward the door. Everyone followed, and off we went. I was kind of surprised that there wasn’t an announcement like, “Ok, let’s head out!” or “let’s go!” to let everyone know that it was time to roll.

As soon as we go out the door, and across the street, one guy was already about a half a block ahead of the rest of the already-splintered main group.

“Ok,” I thought, “apparently this isn’t a no-drop run.”

I let the rabbit go, and was left with a group of 5–6 gals and myself. A few of them seemed to know each other, and a few others seemed to be on their own, like me. As we ran, no one introduced themselves or tried to make conversation with anyone else (aside from the two women that were apparently already buddies).

When I get to know someone, I’m a pretty outgoing person, but when I’m in a group of people for the first time, like this moment, I’m pretty reserved. I tend to keep to myself and I don’t speak up until someone talks to me. It can make for awkward moments like this, where you’re running right next to someone, and there’s complete silence.

A mile or so into the run, we made a turn, and our now well-strung-out “group” was running on the right side of the street. This is the wrong side of the street on which to run, especially at night. Along with being a pretty quiet guy around new people, I don’t like to rock the boat, either. But, this was getting to be a little too much for me. I mean, one of the basics of running on the roads is that you should always run on the left side of the road, against traffic.

There wasn’t any traffic on the road, and I slowly started to drift over toward the left shoulder, in hopes that others might follow.

Half a block. One block. Two blocks. Everyone else was still on the right side, and I was starting to feel silly, and a bit unsafe, running all by myself on the other side of the road.

We made a right hand turn, and I slid back over to the right side as we rounded the corner. Gah! Better to be part of the herd, I thought, rather than sticking out, I figured.

At about two miles into the run, our original group of 5–6 was now a string of pairs and individuals, spanning a full block or more.

At busy road crossings, people weren’t waiting for others, they’d just dart across the street whenever there was a sliver of space between passing cars. This just spread the group out even more.

In the final mile of what ended up being a 3-mile run (much shorter than I had anticipated), we ran down a street filled with sidewalk cafes and stores.

Runners were dashing across the street, mid-block, with little attention paid to crosswalks or traffic.

As I pulled up to the finish of the run, a few of the women from the original group were milling out front of the store, and one mumbled something to the effect of “I’ve got 3 more to go,” and kind of wandered away without saying goodbye. I kindly smiled and nodded as she walked past me.

There was a apparent lack of leadership here, and if this group run were a business, it would have flopped.

Here are a few of the take-away lessons that were reinforced by my experience here:

A leader needs to lead his team, not run out front.

Unlike the guy that took of at the start of the run, paying little attention to the rest of the group behind him, an good leader needs to pay attention to his team.

Weather you’re a small business owner or a big time CEO, you need to make sure you’re team knows where they’re going and how they should get there. Lead by example, coach your team, support them, and gather feedback. You can’t do this when you’re miles ahead of everyone else.

Make sure everyone knows the plan, even those that show up late

It’s important that your team knows where they’re headed and how to get there. A team that doesn’t know it’s destination, or the route, will end up wasting time and money trying to figure out where they’re supposed to be going. This is especially true when you bring new employees on board. Make sure they know where you’re headed, and how you’re all going to get there.

Check in with your team

It’s a good idea to check in with your team from time to time to see how they’re doing and if they have any questions about where they’re heading, or feedback about how things are going. If you work in a physical office or other workplace, you can check in at a weekly staff meeting, or a quick walk through the office will do. If you work with a remote team, shoot an email out to your team every week to check in, or better yet, use a tool like the automatic check-in feature on Basecamp (we love this tool at Endurance Evolution).

Follow up

Once your project is done, follow up with your team and ask them how it went. Rather than just sprinting on to the next project, make sure to get feedback from your team and see if everything went as well as it could have. Maybe there are some inefficiencies that could be improved in your process. Maybe everything is spot on. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

It’s a good thing this group run wasn’t a business, because if it were, it would have failed. Communicate, lead, check in, follow up, succeed.