Leading the Pack – Lessons from the Iditarod

Post by Jerry Baker on June 15, 2016

I recently attended The Masters’ Coach (TMC) which is a quarterly Building Champions event for senior mortgage professionals, and I was amazed by the maturity and insight of the 29-year old speaker, Dallas Seavey. He is a dog sled musher and now a four-time Iditarod winner and really only getting started. Yes, he won four times in a sport where you are not supposed to win until you’re at least 40-years old. For those who only vaguely remember, the Iditarod is a grueling 1000-mile dog sled trek across the frozen tundra of Alaska from Seward to Nome. It is a challenger of man and dog at the best of times and a crusher for all most of the time.

There are many parallels between leading a dog sled team and managing a workplace team, and I would like to share with you what I learned from Dallas Seavey:

Focus on Small, Achievable Steps

Dallas set a goal to win the Iditarod by age 26. He considered the main focus to be each step along the way, not the end goal. Dallas recommended breaking down the many steps in every process that it takes to win and fully understanding each step. For his team, he set goals that stretched them but didn’t disable them. When a team is stretched too hard and fails, it is hard to get back up, let alone win the race. If you just go one more step, one more mile, you will reach the finish line. The competition is not only against other mushers and sleds, but also against yourself.

Challenge Conventional Wisdom

No step is too small not to reconsider. Challenge conventional wisdom because it may be outdated and no longer relevant. Dallas broke down every step of the process to win the Iditarod to find a better way to do it. Don’t let yourself believe in the notion that “it’s the way we have always done it”. You may be the first to try something new and succeed, but remember that soon the competition will follow.

Think of the Team First

A dog team must believe that it’s leader (the human) won’t get the team into something they can’t win or can’t do. Dallas slept in the field with his dogs, fed them first, and made sure they were healthy for the next leg of the race. He learned their strengths and weaknesses. Dallas recognized that he first needed to understand the team and their individual capabilities. A leader must think about the team first!

Don’t Spend Too Much Time on Problem Team Members

Dallas asked, “Do you spend too much time on the two or three ‘problem’ dogs and fail to spend enough time on the eight or nine dogs that if challenged can do more?”

“How many times as a leader are you spending time focused on problem team members and not spending enough time with those that can do more?”

Maximize the Team’s Endurance

Dallas and his dog team trained year-round even though training typically only occurs in the winter. He devised a treadmill for the dogs to train indoors. He changed the rest stop schedule from the recommended one stop every six to eight hours to one every four hours. When he trained outside, he was in real race conditions, stopping every four hours to rest (eat and sleep) before embarking on another trek, just as they would experience in the Iditarod. He traveled at a pace to maximize the team’s endurance, not to beat the competition.

As a leader you must be willing to innovate and change to stay ahead of the pack.

 

Dallas will be sharing his powerful story and many more insights on the main stage at the 2016 Building Champion’s Experience. Click here to learn more and register.


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Jerry Baker
CEO Mentor

Jerry Baker joined Building Champions as a CEO Mentor in 2009. He has experienced the impact of coaching firsthand as a client and corporate partner of Building Champions. He most recently served as CEO, President and member of the Board of Directors of First Horizon National Corporation and First Tennessee Bank.

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