Secret runners’ business: Objectivity and impetus

Secret runners' business: Objectivity and impetus

As a former consultant I’m very familiar with the adage about how management consultants steal your watch and then tell you the time.

In some cases, this thinking isn’t so far off the mark. However, I’d like to point out one or two redeeming features of my former profession. Yes, sometimes the problems being solved by the consultants weren’t rocket science, but they were issues and often nothing had been done about them.

Was management too blinded by the complicated mess of dealing with staff, customers, technology and deciding whether to cancel daily staff fruit allowance to tell the time? Just as spellcheckers help awful spellers (such as myself) pass themselves off as writers, so too has the advent of digital watches probably saved a few managers from mixing up the big hand and the little hand.

In reality, problems get overlooked because managers are much too close to issues that, even when identified, are left in the pending tray for lack of will to make the necessary changes. This is where consultants come into their own: sort of like corporate psychologists, they are great at separating the wood from the trees. More importantly, those fancy cufflinks and sharp suits often contain individuals of surprising drive and energy – sometimes enough to get those difficult projects implemented. Objectivity and impetus is what you are paying for.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with running, I’ve been recently reflecting on just how similar the job of a running coach is to a management consultant. Runners come to you with seemingly insurmountable problems with injury and performance, their training diaries filled with information on the duration and intensity of all their workouts. Usually problems relate to overdoing things. As I often say: more of the same isn’t necessarily what you need to improve. Other times it’s pure impatience – not giving your body the chance to adapt gradually to increases in training load.

And then they leave, dubious and doubtful – surely what they’ve been doing is the right approach? It’s quite remarkable how we let what we want to believe outweigh cold hard logic. Then they return broken and disheartened: same process, identical outcome. Running coaches, like management consultants, tend to repeat themselves because runners, like clients, tend to stick their fingers in their ears when they don’t like the message.

I remember one old corporate warhorse laughing off a series of sound recommendations in a report we’d put together. He’d seen consultants come and go, and rather than Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women”, this guy had binders full of consultant reports dating back a decade or more, all recommending the same thing. It might have been the right advice but it was never going to be implemented at that organisation.

Recognising this phenomenon in runners over the past few months has begun to lower my blood pressure. Helping those who want to change is much more rewarding than dragging the unwilling towards your way of thinking. A final suggestion for those runners seeking advice from a coach or health professional: be prepared to listen and act on what you’ve been told. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the lengths coaches and others will go to in order to help you achieve your objectives.


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