Paris marathon 2018 by Eiffel Tower

Encouragement Tips from the Paris Marathon

Runners streamed through the streets of the City of Lights during the Paris Marathon.  I was out there encouraging them to the full as marathon runners demonstrate character qualities I admire:

  • They have a goal
  • They train with discipline…even waking at 5:00 am to run before a full day at work
  • They persevere…for 42 kilometers straight

Friends shared about their marathon experiences in various cities.  They especially rave about NY where the encouragers never sleep.  Fans line the streets in all neighborhoods and boost the athletes on.

Our local encouragement remained discreet.  Here is what I learned by cheering on the Parisian athletes.

Encouragement is Rare,
even Attention-Worthy

I walked along the Marathon route between kilometers 27 and 30, between the Eiffel Tower and Alma Marceau.  Runners have just come through the tunnel where Princess Diana died in a car accident.  It is dark and dreary; getting out is an uphill hike.  The route continues to slope up slightly to the food and water stations by the Eiffel Tower.

It’s a tough leg of the race.

Active encouragers were so few and far between, that we became entertainment, even distracting attention away from the runners.

Admirers lined the road to watch quietly.  From time to time a fan caught a glimpse of the runners they had come to support and burst into praise as they sped by.  Then, back to silent admiration.

I, on the other hand, clapped avidly and repeatedly shouted out, “Hurray!  Keep it up!  What athletes!” to all of the runners.  They are achieving an amazing feat.  Some passersby rolled their eyes at me and snickered.

During my 90 minutes of cheering, I noticed one other person applauding as loudly as me; she wore an official Marathon Volunteer vest.

A band played marching music to boost the runners’ energy.  A crowd gathered around them, turning their backs to the racers.

Check out the video where we hear the band and barely a sound from the crowd.

Paris marathon supporters playing music

It’s like the onlookers delegated the role of encouragement to the few official volunteers and sporadic musicians.

Cheering on in a marathon differs from a soccer game or a tennis match.

  • We don’t know these athletes
  • Runners keep coming for hours which translates into cheering for the long-haul

Spurring on marathoners in Paris demonstrates that encouragement is a purposeful decision.  It’s not something we do to follow the crowd.

Pouring courage into others will feel unusual and odd.  The question for you and I becomes, “Is the value of helping another person be the best they can be worth our momentary discomfort?”

I believe it is…and I also believe the investment in the other person helps me grow wiser and happier too.

For you too. That’s why my paradigm-shifting workshops include activities on how to effectively encourage team members.

Encouragement is a Mindset

We find what we seek.  Look for problems and challenges.  They are there and easy to identify.

Positive qualities can be harder to identify.  It takes a shift in perspective.

Think of hiking up a mountain. As you look forward, the peaks loom large and daunting.  Yet, pause, and turn around and admire the view.  How far you have already come!

Encouragement begins with looking for value in someone or their actions.  Many of these attributes could be taken for granted or are visible through empathy and shared experiences

  • Effort
  • Persistence
  • Sacrifice
  • Intermediate successes

The marathoners could be viewed as sweaty-huffing-and-puffing-(sometimes-struggling)-runners.  They can also be perceived as toned athletes, champions in discipline, and goal achievers.

Encouragement is Substantive

Critics deride praise as vacuous and without substance.  Avoid that trap.

Real and useful encouragement is grounded in truth and reality so that it effectively pours courage into another person.

Admittedly some words get overused and misused.

“You’re awesome,” said to everyone and anyone and no matter what the context sounds insincere.

“Awesome effort,” shouted out to a runner who has progressed 30 kilometers recognizes an accomplishment.

Encouragement in Practice

Here is how I tried to make my Paris marathon encouragement purposeful, empathetic, and substantive

  1. Acknowledge an effort or a behavior
    Think of children who call out, “Look at me.” They are hoping to hear, “I see you.”
    “What an athlete!”
    “Look how far you have come!”
    “You made it through the tunnel!”
    “Still smiling!!!!”
  2. Orient to the next step (not the next twenty steps ????)
    “There is water and food at the Eiffel Tower.”
    “Keep it up.”
  3. Link Past Achievements to Confidence in Future Performance
    Sometimes that’s simply combining the first two practices together
    “You have come so far! You can keep going.”
    “You survived the tunnel.  Keep it up with the sunshine and the great view.”

Be an Encourager

Who needs encouragement around you?  A demoralized colleague, a worried (and possibly nagging)  spouse, a misbehaving child, or an ageing parent?  Try noticing one thing they do well.  Want help to know how?  Click to send me a note.

Maybe YOU are the one in need of encouragement.  Notice and share one thing that you have done well too.  If you stick to the facts, it’s not boasting.

Yesterday was sunny and warm and our house was filled with friends.  Today the skies are grey and work progresses with two steps forward and one step back.  I’ll focus on the two steps forward…that helps me keep going.

Biker in Paris in the snow

How Snow in Paris Taught me about Diversity

It’s snowing in Paris.  A layer of white flakes changes what is visible and how things previously hidden, now appear.

Snow, more specifically comparing the sun-filled and snow-covered view of the same scene, provides a visual image of benefits of diversity.

Switching Paradigms – the Positive Perspective

On my walk to the Metro, I pass by a patch of unkempt, sprawling nettles.

Today, with a dust of snow, these weeds appear just as delicate and ethereal as the flowers caringly planted that grow beside them.

It’s quite refreshing, both literally (!) and figuratively.  How do you feel around a person who always finds faults?  Whose company do you seek:  the shoe salesman who goes into the jungle and asserts, “No one wears shoes.  There is no market.” or the one who discovers, “No one wears shoes.  What opportunity!”

It is energizing to observe what is good and admirable.  When looking out for the mishaps, we miss the qualities.  We find what we seek.

Noticing the Unseen

What surprised me the most is not what the snow covered…but what it revealed.

The size of the tree trunks.  The wire fence.

Paris in 1919 in the snow

Tree Trunks

On a sunny day, when I look at a tree my eyes focus on the network of branches and the promise of leaves.  These branches covered in white blended into the light grey sky.  It’s the tree trunks that stand out, a blotch of dark standing out like a sore thumb.

A friend is launching a start-up.  She has product characteristic without being sure of her market.  Oops!  It’s time to step back and get the big picture. Her mentor shared, “You have beautiful leaves.  Now grow the tree!”

Intellectually, this made sense.  Yet it remained head-knowledge.  Today as we walked in the snow and the white branches faded into the light gray sky, the tree trunks loomed larger than usual.  She “got it.”  Without the tree trunk (understanding the market need), the leaves (her company’s specific solutions) don’t matter.

The snow uncovered the fundamentals.

Wire Fence

It’s the wire fence that surprised me the most.  I rarely noticed the slender cross wires.  Now each wire measures 1cm high with snow.  What used to be a quazi-transparent barrier is now quazi-opaque.

It’s like the H & M “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” hoodie worn by a black boy.  The campaign did not register with the all-white board of directors until The Weeknd cancelled his marketing contract.  (How many lost weeks and dollars went into seducing him and then negotiating and signing the agreement?!)  Negative press abounds.  Good-will took a dive.

The snow revealed how something that seems innocuous to one group could be restrictive to another.

Diversity MATTERS and has consequences.

Diversity MATTERS and has consequences. Click to Tweet

Diversity Accelerates Competitiveness

Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School professor and author of Teaming: how organizations learn, innovate, and compete in the Knowledge Economy, reminds leaders that although most incentive and promotion packages are based on individual performance, teamwork remains the essential ingredient for success. In the speed-driven Internet economy, the organizations that prosper are those that create teams that learn together faster.

When everyone thinks the same way, learning suffers.  Less surprise.  Fewer questions.  Less conflict.  Fewer solutions.

Which brainstorming session would you prefer attending?

  • The meeting in your corporate auditorium with people you regularly work with all dressed in their customary suits
  • The session beginning with surprising trust-building exercises, led by junior members of the team…

“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
Albert Einstein

Diversity Reduces Risk

Diversity is like investing in a portfolio of stock vs. solely in one company or industry.  The advertisement campaign may go sour in one organization; it’s unlikely that all competitors make the exact same decisions.

Edmondson asserts that high-learning organizations (companies, families, classrooms…) allow risk-taking and its corollary, failure.

They systematize learning as of the beginning of the discovery process and at every step along the way to catch bloopers while the stakes remain small.

It’s easier to change course at 500 meters into the journey than 20 km into the hike.  In addition to less backtracking (and the related negative emotions), finding the “wrong turn” and getting on track is more expeditious.

Diversity Brings Discomfort

A client spoke of their corporate culture: new hires with potential integrate the “Fast Track” where both they and the company invest in their managerial development.  It’s an intense program which generates elite graduates with ambition and proven grit…who also think alike.

When the company merged with a previous competitor, the newly created organization was led by a “Fast Track” graduate.  Over the next year, all of the professionals from the previous company resigned from the new organization.

The stock price of the parent company also took a deep dive and management announced massive job cuts.  Is there a relationship?

Discomfort of diversity now could save from the greater pain and cost of job loss later.

Be Diverse in your Diversity

Your workplace is more traditional?  Start by actively cultivating diversity at home.  We are each responsible for our own learning.

Try one of these:

    1. Connect with your teen by doing an activity that’s in their comfort zone.
      Have you tried an Escape Game together?  A stand-up comedy show?
    2. Explore different cultures through food.
      It’s a great way to explore diversity with kids.  This week try Black Ink Risotto.  Next week how about Curried Tofu. So what if the kids don’t like it.  It’s one meal…and a conversation that can build over weeks.
    3. Do you work with numbers and pride yourself in rational thought? Take a MOOC on emotions or a drawing class.
      Or if you artistic, sign up for a logic-driven coding course.
    4. Get inspired by Keith Ferrazzi, entrepreneur and author of Never Eat Alone, and co-host a dinner party.
      You invite half the guest and your friend invites people you do not yet know.  As you mingle and linger in the comfort of a home, you grow your network and your comfort zone.
    5. Build empathy as a family and volunteer for a food drive.
      Listening to the stories of the guests challenges one’s stereotypes.

You can be a catalyzer for diversity in your office.  Practice at home makes diversity easier to implement at work.  You’ll have intriguing stories to share at the coffee machine and become a resource and encouragement for others seeking ways to add spice to the team.


Stay tuned for upcoming insight on management inspired by the Paris snow storm.


Photo from Maleva.& Salut Paris