Six-Point Creative CEO Meghan Lynch is still applying leadership lessons she learned when she ran her first ultramarathon, years after the race was run. Meghan applies what she learned to her brand strategy work today, helping companies scale, grow, and sharpen their focus.

The first time I ever climbed up Mount Tom, I almost threw up. Overweight and out of shape but determined not to give up, I was climbing up a trail that was short, but ridiculously steep. I was gasping for air, trying not to embarrass myself any further in front of the friends I was with.

This person, kneeling on the rocks, would someday run a 50-mile “ultramarathon”? Impossible. Until it wasn’t.

I wrote an article about what I learned in the actual 50 mile event and how it applies to my work, but you don’t go from couch potato to running an ultramarathon without learning a few things along the way. I learned plenty about myself as a person, but I also still use that transformation as a touchstone professionally as well. Here are three nuggets I carry with me.

  • How you do it matters more than what you do. I never liked running. Until one day a hike turned into my first trail run. Instead of a suffer-fest on the road, I could bound down a hill like a child and get the lift of spirits that just comes with being in nature. I realized I didn’t hate running. I just hated road running. (I still do; it’s just not my thing.)

This is something I have applied to my professional mission as well. I know so many people who have been burned by marketing and branding agencies that now simply the word “rebrand” might as well come with a trigger warning. It made me determined to reclaim the value of branding by changing the delivery system. Could branding development be a fun experience instead of a frustrating one? Could we make clients feel part of our team instead of at odds with us? Our Solve for Y brand development program is built on the fundamental belief that yes, it is possible. Branding is not good or bad. There are just ways to make it feel better or worse for people engaged in it.

I think this applies to lots of things people will say that they “hate.” Sales. Negotiation. Networking. But what if you found a way to do these things in a way that aligns with your values and personal style? Would they really be so terrible? Or could you find some joy in them?

  • Others can see your potential more clearly than you can. I would have never dared to even attempt going the marathon distance if a friend and mentor didn’t invite me to a six-hour charity running event. “Just go as far as you can in that time. You never know!” During the last hour, when I realized I had passed the marathon point, I yelled to her triumphantly. She just grinned. She already knew.

I often get to reverse those roles when I work with our clients. I am the one saying, “Let’s just see where this takes us,” knowing that at the end of the discovery process, they will see potential in their own company and brand that they were once blind to. In fact, a big part of our Solve for Y program is centered on equipping our clients with creative ways to see new opportunity in their brands, to redefine failure, and to silence the “voice of unhelpful judgment” that keeps us from taking risks that can move us forward. We incorporate applied improv with a professional facilitator into our brand workshops as one way to help tap into this hidden potential.

The power of an outside perspective is also a reason why I am a big fan of peer learning. I have been and continue to be active in a number of CEO roundtables and formal and informal peer groups. And let me say, the outside perspective from people who really do “get” what you are struggling with is so valuable. If you are not a part of a peer group or have never experienced peer learning, find a group near you. (And feel free to reach out to me if you need ideas on where to start!)

  • Small changes will create bigger changes. I love Harvard Business School’s definition of entrepreneurship: the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled. It clearly captures the trust that entrepreneurs must have in themselves and their company, as well as the huge risks they must take in order to make their vision a reality. And the higher the stakes gets, the scarier those trust leaps become. This is when focusing on small steps and wins becomes critical to getting you (and your team) to where you need to go.
Entrepreneurship: the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.

I see the effect of these ‘small steps’ with our clients. Once they have a phrase that peaks the interest of a prospective customer, they can’t ever go back to using the old language they used to love. Once they have creative that sets a new standard in quality and impact, everything else looks dingy and outdated. When they get overwhelmed with all of the changes they need to make, I will focus them on the next step, the next win. And this is because I know from experience that one will naturally lead to the next.

A client once compared our agency to a drug dealer, “Once I have had a taste, I’m not satisfied with the way things were!”

I don’t love the comparison, but I know what he meant. Endurance running became my drug, just as entrepreneurship is now. A little further. A little faster. To me, there is nothing better than the intrinsic reward of relentless forward progress.