Thibaut Bardon – en collaboration avec François-Regis Puyou (St Andrews University) – ont mené un projet de recherche sur les dirigeants marathoniens afin d’étudier les liens qui existent entre pratiques sportives et pratiques managériales. Les résultats de leur recherche ont été relayés par de nombreux média (France Info, Harvard Business Review, etc.). L’article ci-dessous - qui a été publié dans Forbes - reprend les principaux résultats de leur étude.
By Sally Percy, freelance business journalist and editor
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is known for jogging six miles every morning. Apple CEO Tim Cook hits the gym at 5 a.m. each day. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of U.S. Vogue, wakes at 5:45 a.m. on a daily basis to play an hour of tennis.
While the link between self-discipline and success has long been recognized, the daily routines of these well-known leaders further underline the point. What is less clear, however, is how highly driven individuals establish a link between their ‘non-work self-disciplines’ – i.e. the routines they impose on themselves in their private lives – and their professional selves.
It is precisely this link that Thibaut Bardon, management professor at Audencia Business School, France and Francois-Regis Puyou, lecturer in management at St Andrews University, Scotland, explore in their new research paper, Exploring the identity work of ‘marathon managers.’
For their research, the pair interviewed 33 executive managers and entrepreneurs – managing between 15 and several hundred employees – who run marathons or ultra-trails or complete Ironman triathlons on a regular basis. Participation in at least one race of that kind per year for a period of two consecutive years was the minimum required criteria.
The research made several key findings based on the revelations of these so-called “marathon managers.”
1. Marathon managers transpose elements of their self-discipline to their work self-discipline, and vice versa.
In particular, marathon managers plan, conduct and assess their athletic self-discipline by applying the same methods that they use to manage professional projects. Effectively, they are treating training sessions as part of a broader project that they manage methodically in order to reach the desired target. So they schedule training sessions as appointments in their diary, considering them not as a leisure activity but as a business imperative. Furthermore, they set themselves performance targets and track their progress precisely and regularly.
Conversely, marathon managers use some of the competencies that they have developed through their athletic self-discipline to address professional issues. For example, they might transpose a ‘race strategy’ to a ‘company strategy’ situation or apply the ‘one step after the other’ technique that long-distance runners use to cope with exhaustion and overwhelm. This involves focusing on short-term business objectives – the next step – rather than the amount of ground they have left to cover.
2. Marathon managers draw on their athletic self-discipline to improve their work self-discipline.
Participants to the research believed that long-distance running helped them to develop personal qualities, such as toughness, which improved their performance in a professional context. It also enabled them to better cope with the stress of a busy working life, providing a pressure relief valve that they could use to regulate their mental anxiety and minimize the risk of burn-out.
Fundamentally, running enables marathon managers to develop the physical stamina necessary to wrack up long hours in the office while reducing the stress that could impair their professional performance. Marathon managers also view regular runs as a meditative practice that helps them to be more creative and innovative in the workplace.
3. Marathon managers use intense, athletic self-discipline as a way to accumulate proofs about their own personal skills and abilities.
In fact, they find that athletic self-discipline builds up their confidence in their capacity to overcome distances. In some cases, long-distance running relieves them of doubts that they may have about their tenacity and endurance. It also helps them to put work-related issues into perspective.
Marathon runners value being part of a community with like-minded people and they like the fact that long-distance running suggests to peers that they have inner qualities such as being dynamic, motivated, organized, resilient and rigorous.
4. Marathon managers balance their athletic training with demanding jobs and family life.
The research participants believed that the most impressive leaders engage in running and their professional work with a similar level of exceptional intensity. Several participants mentioned how they matched periods of intense professional duties with increased commitment to athletic training. Intensive training is also a way for marathon managers to find much needed “me time” and balance that need with meeting their professional and family obligations.
Marathon managers as leaders
Overall, it’s interesting research, but it begs the obvious question: does being a marathon manager actually make you a better leader?
Bardon, for one, is not convinced. “All our respondents claim to have superior qualities that give them an advantage at work, thanks to extreme running,” he says. “They say that they have more energy and are more focused, productive and resilient, psychologically and physically, than managers who do not practice extreme running.
Nevertheless, he points out that the study is only based on qualitative interviews with marathon managers, who by definition are likely to hold the view that extreme exercise makes them better leaders.
He also admits: “Our respondents sometimes talk about attitudes and express opinions that do not characterize good leaders. For instance, some respondents consider those who take part in corporate running events organized within the company to be more motivated and ambitious than others.
“Other respondents admit that they prefer to recruit sports people because they believe that they have superior qualities. These practices are discriminatory, but also very irrational since people who do not practice sport can obviously be excellent professionals.”