My first year as a volunteer race director for a 5K in New York City was an extreme experience of growth and development. I learned so much about collaboration, teamwork, race logistics, and leadership. It was an amazing opportunity.
A week before the event, I was informed there was some issue with the insurance or permit for use of the park (or some similar paperwork problem that was going to take weeks to resolve). My first thought was, honestly, to panic. I had taken on this role and I was the leader. There were no excuses to be made. I was wholly responsible. This error had completely blindsided me, but I had a few options:
First, I suppose I could have completely lost it. I could have called my committee and volunteers and runners and said that the race is off and they should forget about showing up. But that seems a bit inflammatory and unnecessary, no?
Or, I could have ignored the problem entirely. Hoping that by closing my eyes and covering my ears, it would simply go away and we would have no issues on the day of the event. But that seems rather immature and counterproductive, yes?
Instead, I did what responsible adults do. I gathered my senses and took stock of the situation. I informed my co-director and did my research on how to quickly obtain the necessary documentation. We were able to finalize the paperwork in record time and run (no pun intended) a really successful 5K the next week.
I didn’t incite a panic. But I did what had to be done to ensure a safe, productive, and positive event for everyone. That’s what a leader does.
I don’t tell this story to brag about my genius. In fact, there are a lot of things I would do differently should I be in that position again. (Hindsight is 2020 afterall.) I tell this story to illustrate how simple it is to do the right thing.
You don’t have to create a panic. But to blatantly ignore an issue that in some cases has real life or death consequences is nothing short of childish, pathetic, and reprehensible.
Being in a leadership position isn’t always easy. And it’s important that we recognize that as part of this conversation. But it’s equally imperative that we hold those in power accountable.
It was 3 years ago, and still, I can remember that sinking feeling of the missing paperwork. An ego-driven part of myself wanted to shrink away. I wanted to blame an unclear email or someone from the parks department or anyone but myself. But leaders lead. And adults take responsibility for their actions. Anything else is simply inexcusable.