Have you ever heard of the 20 Mile March? It’s a concept developed by Jim Collins in his book Great by Choice. The idea is all about consistency. Enterprises that prevail during turbulent and chaotic times are the ones who set themselves strict performance markers that they need to hit with steadfast consistency. Collins likens the value of this approach to hiking across the United States by travelling at least 20 miles (around 32kms) a day, every day.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Imagine you’re standing with your feet in the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, California, looking inland. You’re about to embark on a three-thousand-mile (4828kms) walk, from San Diego to the tip of Maine. On the first day, you march 20 miles, making it out of town. On the second day, you march 20 miles. And again, on the third day, you march 20 miles, heading into the heat of the desert. It’s hot, more than a hundred degrees, and you want to rest in the cool of your tent. But you don’t. You get up and you march 20 miles. You keep the pace, 20 miles a day. Then the weather cools, and you’re in comfortable conditions with the wind at your back, and you could go much farther. But you hold back, modulating your effort. You stick with your 20 miles. Then you reach the Colorado high mountains and get hit by snow, wind, and temperatures below zero—and all you want to do is stay in your tent. But you get up. You get dressed. You march your 20 miles. You keep up the effort—20 miles, 20 miles, 20 miles—then you cross into the plains, and it’s glorious springtime, and you can go 40 or 50 miles in a day. But you don’t. You sustain your pace, marching 20 miles. And eventually, you get to Maine.”
I love this analogy because I think it really showcases the value of having a future vision and working towards that vision everyday. We’re always encouraged to have a goal and a vision but the only way you’re going to achieve that vision is if you work hard and push hard relentlessly. It’s something that requires daily commitment and dedication. As a leader, you’re the person at the front, guiding your team on the daily march and clearing the path for everyone to achieve his or her shared goal.
In his book, Collins goes on to describe another hiker who sets off on the same trek from San Diego to Maine on the same day. But he/she approaches the trip with a different mindset. On days when the conditions are great, this walker logs 40 miles a day but when the conditions aren’t favourable, he/she opts to rest and wait things out until the weather improves. Understandably the second hiker hits the coast of Maine well after the first, exhausted after a journey characterised by inconsistency.
As Collins explains, there will be times when the conditions are tough. I think we’ve all experienced this in recent weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. But this is when you need to celebrate the small victories. Every step you take towards realising your vision is a victory.
A meeting of minds
As you set off on any business journey, it’s so important to make sure that everyone knows where you’re headed. Imagine I told you we were going on a walk but I failed to mention that this walk would be 4828km long. Chances are you’d feel pretty frustrated and demotivated because you have no view of the final destination. It’s about managing expectations. Good leaders communicate openly with their teams and make sure that everyone is on the same page before they get started. In doing so, everyone will be mentally prepared to handle the road ahead.
When creating your future vision, I’d encourage you to dream big. Your vision should be something that makes you gasp. It should almost seem unachievable until you break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks and develop plans to make it a reality. Collins describes this as a BHAG, pronounced “Bee Hag” and short for a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”. The concept calls on people to build for the long term by working today and tomorrow and the next day with impassioned focus. This is not something that you do once and then put in a drawer for a few months. It’s something that you execute routinely no matter what.
This doesn’t mean that your vision can’t change. It’s inevitable that there will be hurdles along the route, which might mean that you take a detour. That’s okay. But if you stick to your plan – 20 miles a day – even with a detour, you’re making progress and that’s the most important thing.
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