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Run Your Own Marathon: Eleven Steps To Reaching The Finish Line

The calendar page has turned, and your results from last year are official. Good, bad or indifferent, you can’t change them. It is both an exciting time and an anxious time. Everyone’s score cards are zeroed out and we start again.

I had the pleasure to speak to a few thousand dealers throughout 2007. Very few are content to simply repeat their past performances. If things went well, they want better results. If the year went poorly, they simply cannot afford a repeat performance.

For most, the goals are similar—more sales, more gross, better CSI and better control over expenses. Many dealers have put their plans in place for the coming year by now. The question is:  What have you done to ensure you won’t just repeat your prior year’s results?

I compare these processes to my ability to run a marathon. I have been running for about 14 years. I am an average runner with decent speed and abilities for my age, but certainly nothing noteworthy. Up to now, I generally have run three to five miles as time and my endurance will allow. I do it because it is one thing I can do wherever I go in the country, without need for any gear except my running shoes and my MP3 player.

Every runner puts completing a marathon on their list of things to do at some point. I put it on my list about three years ago. Let me tell you, both literally and figuratively, there is a hefty distance between five and 26.2 miles. I have started this project a number of times, but the sad truth is that the longest I had ever run (now more than a decade ago) was just under 7.5 miles (12K). This is not much different than a dealer being mired at a certain level of performance or profits and, while knowing there is a whole new level of performance or profitability out there, it seems too far away to be ever to be able to reach it. Mentally, it is like trying to eat an elephant in one bite.

A little over three weeks ago, my wife decided she (we?) wanted to run a half-marathon. We would start small (relatively). However, this time we did something different. We joined a group with the same goal and with a system to do it. Low and behold, I always envisioned running a marathon was like the spirited Kenyans running their 4:45 miles. Now I couldn’t run a 4:45 with rocket-powered shoes, but 8:30 that’s doable…for three to five miles. Whether due to my feet, knees, lungs or mind, the results were always the same. When I was auto racing I was taught to slow down to speed up. Well in running it turns out you slow down to go farther. Enter interval training.

My wife is extremely fit. A lifetime of dedication and 10 years of instructing Pilates has ensured that. Due to a bad knee from a skiing accident, she probably hadn’t run more than a mile in 15 years, and now she decides she wants to complete a half-marathon? That is like a dealer selling 80 units a month saying they are going to average 300 a month next year and raise their gross $2,000 a copy at the same time.

A little over three weeks ago we started our training with the Jeff Galloway system and she completed 6.5 miles yesterday! Yes, her knee ached a little, but as long as she protects her knee from catastrophic injury, she knows that she will absolutely make the 13.1 miles. Yesterday, I jumped from six miles to slightly more than 10 miles, surpassing my decade-old best like a hot knife through butter. I didn’t want to quit running; I just ran out of available time. Better yet, I am not crippled today, and my new goal is now the full marathon.

The neat thing about running is you have plenty of time to think about things (besides my legs are tired) like “Why am I suddenly able to do this?” Putting one foot in front of the other for almost two hours gave me great clarity on that question. The good news is that the answer also applies 100 percent to your dealership.

Every journey begins with a first step. I believe that first step is being Inspired to Set Your Goal. You have to be inspired to achieve something that you have never accomplished. (As a sidebar - it is also your goal as leaders to inspire your team.) My inspiration was my wife along with two cousins; one is six years older than me and has run more marathons than I can count and completed two Ironman Triathlons.. The second cousin, three years younger, just ran her first triathlon having never swam a half mile or ran three miles prior to her training.

Step two is to Commit Through Communication. I often dream aloud. “I want to do _____” or “I think we can accomplish _______.” Many of those dreams come true in some form. Just ask my director of operations. If others know about your dream, they often become your de facto support group by asking how it is coming or if you ever accomplished it. This can come at your lowest point of confidence to help keep your focus in place.

Step three is to Develop a Sound Plan. I paid Jeff Galloway $180 for my wife and I to learn how to run. Something I thought I had known how to do for 53 years. If you have the expertise and experience, use it to fashion a plan. If you don’t, buy it. Fourteen years of dedicated running proved I needed help in developing a plan.

Step four is to Believe You Can Do It. If you don’t, no one else will. The best players and the best teams believe they are going to win before they ever step out on the field.

Step five is to Have the Discipline to follow the plan. Failure to do so will simply cause your plan to be the flavor of the month and will deliver the same frustrating results using slightly different methods. Make and accept no excuses. As Bo Jackson, one of my favorite athletes once said, “Just Do It!”

Step six is to Measure Your Performance. I don’t leave home without my watch. I chart my intervals and log my daily activities. I firmly believe that if you perform the activities, the results will follow. It takes measuring to find where you are falling short as well as to be able to embrace step seven…

…which is to Build on Success. Because I had measured, I knew before I started a week ago that six miles would be a breeze (where I had probably only ran that far a handful of times). Yesterday my goal was seven miles and I knew before I started that it would be so easy that I would have to do 10. All this reinforces step four in believing you can do it. Allowing your team to embrace and enjoy your levels of success will allow them to truly believe your dream will come true.

Step eight is to Don’t Fear Failure. Learn from it. Everyone has learned their entire life through failures. We learned from our first attempts at walking, through losing games and by making mistakes in our classes at school. We learn from mistakes today. If I don’t achieve a goal in my road to my marathon, I will learn from it and use…

…step nine, which is to evaluate and Adjust Your Plan as needed. Even the best plans need to evolve. We have been given a training plan and schedule. Human bodies are not created equally. The plans are guides just as your plans should be. In applying this to the dealership setting, you may have to adjust your plans based on the skills sets and market conditions around you, but you don’t have to change your goals.

Step 10 is to Persevere through thick and thin. There are going to be days where your goal seems impossible. Personnel issues seem to weigh the heaviest on dealerships. Someone has an unfortunate occurrence in life, someone turns out to have less integrity than once thought, someone feels the grass is greener, etc. Dealerships have turnover, and this is just one of the potential obstacles. There are days when I really don’t want to put on my running shoes.

Vince Lombardi once said, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather the lack of will.” Don’t mortgage all the effort that you have already invested by giving in to a momentary obstacle. You must persevere. Often one of the best ways of doing so is to put fail-safes in place in advance for such occasions.

Finally, step 11 is to use a Support Group. There are times when you need more than yourself. When running, there seems to be invisible ropes between all of us in the group that help pull you along when you are momentarily overcome by fatigue. For dealers, support comes from fellow 20 Group members, from peer groups, spouses or family, and even from trainers. These are people that care about you achieving your goals, as you do theirs, and will give you the appropriate congratulations or neck slap (whichever is most needed).

As I write this, I am not quite halfway to my goal, although by this time next week, I will have run the half-marathon distance, which was my first goal. I have no doubt that I will achieve my end goal, which takes place in early March.

Achieving my personal goal will make me neither rich nor famous. It will not feed the hungry, cure disease or provide world peace. It is something that millions of others before me will have done, as will afterwards. Nevertheless it will be immensely satisfying. Should for some reason I fail, I will be a better man for trying, and I will try again. Teddy Roosevelt summed it up by saying, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure ... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Setting out to achieve my personal goal will do nothing for you, except perhaps to help inspire you to set some lofty goals for 2008. Think outside of the box and believe that you can and will achieve them. 

Have a healthy, prosperous and Happy New Year!

Vol 5, Issue 1



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