(Left to right) For Nikhil Arora of GoDaddy, Sushant Sachdeva of MoneySutra Corporate Services, Mansi Madan Tripathy of Shell Lubricants India, Aditya Mishra of GE Renewables and Renu Anand of HDFC Bank, pacing in a race means leading a team with strategy, planning and motivation. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
(Left to right) For Nikhil Arora of GoDaddy, Sushant Sachdeva of MoneySutra Corporate Services, Mansi Madan Tripathy of Shell Lubricants India, Aditya Mishra of GE Renewables and Renu Anand of HDFC Bank, pacing in a race means leading a team with strategy, planning and motivation. Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Leaders pace in a race instead of competing

Leaders who will be pacers at the forthcoming Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, share the lessons they hope to draw from this non-competitive experience

Improvement is the one thing that every successful business head consistently strives for daily. This hunger for bettering their achievements is not limited to annual targets but extends to their recreational activities like golf and distance running too. However, a handful of leaders, who are seasoned runners, have taken a conscious decision not to chase their own target times, and instead help thousands of other runners achieve theirs by choosing to be official pacers at the 14th edition of Airtel Delhi Half Marathon to be held on 21 October.

The reason for picking such power-packed individuals to pace the race has to do with the synergies between pacing and leading, said Vivek Singh, joint managing director of Procam International, the promoters of the race. “Both require responsibility, commitment, selflessness to carry your team forward with you," Singh says. “These business leaders show abundance of these qualities at work day-in and day-out making them the ideal pacers." We speak to a few of heads of companies to understand what motivated them to participate without competing.

Achiever to enabler

According to Nikhil Arora, vice president and managing director for India, GoDaddy, a domain registrar and Web hosting company, a runner always looks at a race as a chance to achieve a new personal best. “Pacing, by contrast, is all about successfully leading a group of individuals, united by nothing other than a common target, to their goal while sacrificing your personal landmarks," he says. Arora, 48, believes that as a pacer, you are no longer running for yourself but for the team to achieve a common goal. “Pacing, like leading a business, is about enabling your team to achieve their personal best outcomes even when they struggle, or start to lose confidence," he adds

An essential quality of a leader is to put team and organizational goals ahead of personal ones. Pacing, instead of racing, does exactly that. Shell Lubricants India managing director Mansi Madan Tripathy, 46, firmly believes that one needs to evolve from being self-oriented to enabling others. “You are a leader only when you are able to inspire, motivate and take people along the journey. A running event like this one provides a great platform to do this in various ways. It’s not about taking a back seat; it is about enabling from behind so that others shine through," says Tripathy.

Leadership Lesson: A leader must be able to inspire, motivate and take the team along for the entire journey.

Pacing as grooming

When it comes to pacing, getting the runner to the finish line on time is the easy part. It is what the pacer does along the distance of the race that determines the success of the pacer’s effort. Starting with clear communication of the group’s progress, timely pep talk to runners to keep their morale high, honest and realistic feedback on what lies ahead, going beyond job description and helping a runner with water or food—everything the pacer does, impacts the emotions of the group as they aim to achieve the target.

“You ensure that each and every member of your team achieves their individual goals too. In real life, as a leader you need to sharpen your leadership skills and pacing a race helps me to sharpen mine," says Renu Anand, HDFC Bank Ltd’s vice president for retail branch banking.

As a pacer when you encourage and help runners push themselves, you are really drawing on your own struggles as a new runner, says Arora. “This is one of the reasons I also believe that running and fitness are great teachers of humility—you know and acknowledge everyone’s struggles, because you’ve faced them too," he adds.

Pacing at work and not just at a race is a skill that a leader must possess, says Aditya Mishra, chief finance officer, GE Renewable Onshore Wind-Asia. “An organization passes through different phases of growth. This is very much a function of the pace at which a leader leads the change, innovation or execution within the organization. It is a function of setting the right expectations with the stakeholders and delivering. Runners that follow a pacer have bought into a strategy and plan. A pacer, like the leader, needs to stick to the plan and deliver results," says Mishra, 46, a first-time pacer.

Pacing also helps one understand the value of patience and perseverance, adds Anand, 40. It brings about discipline and the lead-from-the-front attitude, which is very useful in professional life as well.

Leadership Lesson: Helping team members achieve personal goals is one of the key attributes of a good leader.

Ripple effect

Even before these business heads guide their runners to the finish line on race day, the announcement of them pacing at Airtel Delhi Half Marathon has had quite an impact within their organizations and among their friends and family.

At GoDaddy, Arora says that the fact he is pacing a race rather than competing has galvanized some more interest in the event. “Now it feels like a team event where we all are participating together. I hope actually being out there in the run, and achieving this goal together will give my team the impetus to embrace fitness with greater enthusiasm," says Arora, who has always maintained that running and fitness are as much a communal activity as they are solo ones.

At HDFC Bank, Anand has already conducted four health and fitness sessions since she was announced as a pacer for the forthcoming race. She feels that her pacing role will inspire her team “to adopt fitness in their daily life style. This opportunity will help me become a fitness role model for my team and peers. Also, they will realize that despite the hectic schedule, time for health and fitness can be managed. It will surely help them kick-start their fitness journeys", she adds.

Leadership Lesson: Setting an example is the best way to get team members to adopt a fitter lifestyle.

When a business head strategizes as a pacer

Goal setting: You need to set a goal, be it for the financials you want to achieve in business or what time/pace you want to complete the run in.

Strategy: You need a strategy to achieve business goals and likewise a good race day strategy is key.

Planning and preparation: In business it will be about budgets, capability of the team, talent resourcing and strategic tie-ups. In running it includes a training calendar and the daily schedule one needs to follow.

Execution: In business it’s about day-to -day delivery and in a race it is about completing each stage within a set time.

Review: At work we look back on how we did in the year gone by, what worked or did not work and what are the learnings. Likewise in a race one reviews on what could have been done differently to be more effective and efficient.

Underlying all of this is core competency of depth, dedication, discipline and delivery.

—Mansi Madan Tripathy

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