Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon at an unlikely age, just two weeks shy of turning 39 and ten years after winning an Olympic silver medal at the same distance. In his book, Meb for Mortals, he describes how he managed to stay at the top for so long and to keep performing, and winning, at an age when many elite athletes are past their best.

When it comes to running, I’m just a weekend warrior—when my kids hear that I’ve entered a half-marathon and ask, “are you going to win, Dad?”, the answer is always “nooooooo!”—but I enjoyed his book not only for his advice on cadence and form, but because Keflezighi’s insights about performance contain some pearls of wisdom for leaders.

In our work at Resonance, we see the difference that leaders can make. We know, for instance, that the right strategy and culture starts at the top, and we see this truth in action across the diverse range of organisations we work with—from businesses selling medical devices, building products, or software and technology, professional service firms or retail, to government agencies and not for profits. We also know that leadership can be a tough job and that many leaders are focused on the day-to-day rather that the long-term, limiting their potential and their organisation’s ability to foster innovation and define their own future. 

That’s why Keflezighi’s insights are so helpful. For starters, he emphasises the importance of defining your purpose. Keflezighi was crystal-clear that his purpose was to win against the best marathoners in the world. That meant, for example, that his strength workouts excluded the kind of exercises that build “beach muscles” in favour of exercises that build neck muscles—no-one is going to check out your neck flex, but strength there is crucial for maintaining the right head position that’s part of good running form.

What stood out to me most, though, was Keflezighi’s philosophy of “prehab, not rehab.” Rather than wait until you get injured and need to rehab your way back to fitness—usually a painful, difficult process—he advocates doing the little things, day after day, that maintain form and condition to prevent injury in the first place. Of course it’s tempting to skip these ‘one-percenters’, especially when you feel like things are going well. But they’re an investment in staying at the top of your game and they provide some insurance against the possibility of an injury that would ultimately be far more costly.

Leaders should adopt this same “prehab, not rehab” philosophy, no matter how experienced they are. That means taking regular opportunities to reflect on their leadership, identifying and using resources that can help them stay sharp and defining and executing strategies for life-long growth and learning. Don’t wait until you’re struggling or until your team is showing the strain to start thinking about how to safeguard your leadership ability. Start now, so that when challenges arrive you’re already well-placed to deal with them.

Of course busy leaders with full calendars may fall prey to the same temptation as busy marathoners—thinking they can’t afford the time, or simply don’t need to make the investment. But as Keflezighi’s experience shows, that’s a false economy, one that’s likely to be followed by an avoidable injury. Instead, do what Meb does, and set yourself up for a lifetime of performing at your best.

If you are a leader in New Zealand or Australia and you’re keen to engage in a bit of leadership prehab, then get in touch with Scott or Alex. We’re happy to discuss how we might help you on your leadership journey.

Alex Penk

Alex Penk

Strategy Partner

Alex is an experienced leader and strategist, skills he honed during his six years as CEO of the independent public policy think tank, Maxim Institute. He led Maxim through a period of significant change to generate real results—new and effective strategy, an increased budget, a cohesive team, and a larger public presence. He joined Resonance in March 2020 and brings a wealth of real-world experience in successful organisational transformation.

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