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These 3 lessons from the triathlon steeled me for the C-Suite—and the pandemic

The chief revenue officer of Amazon-backed startup SmartRent breaks down how completing the rigorous Ironman course translates to enduring leadership in the boardroom.

These 3 lessons from the triathlon steeled me for the C-Suite—and the pandemic
[Photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images for IRONMAN]
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The COVID-19 pandemic introduced social and economic challenges few people saw coming. And while it spurred a scramble to keep up with demand for some and hardships for more, business leaders remain uncertain for what the next six months, let alone the next year, hold. Leaning into the discomfort, though, has potential to drive progress. And as chief revenue officer at a growing startup during tumultuous times, I’m tapping into my athletic training for advice on powering through. 

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Here are three lessons-learned from an Ironman Triathlete that any business leader can apply to their decision making during tough times: 

Remain hyper-focused on the present with a keen eye toward the future 

It’s crucial entrepreneurs and Ironmans alike know one’s loftiest goals, but take it step-by-step. Understand that tackling a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile run doesn’t lend itself well to focusing only on the finish line—and it’s the same in the business world. 

Both training for an Ironman Triathlon and the race itself require breaking goals down. Sure, the goal is to cross that finish line, but identifying steps to help you get there—and holding yourself accountable to those is crucial to your success.  You must give each step your all and approach to fulfill it with a future-oriented mindset.  During the swim portion of the Ironman Triathlon, for example, I’m fully in the water, focusing on each stroke though I still know the bike and run portions of the race are ahead. I understand my limits and exactly how hard I must push towards the swim finish line, but also how much energy and mental drive I must conserve for what’s to come. 

The same mindset must be adopted for tough times in business. The pandemic, which brought shifts to how and where we work and where our priorities lie, has thrown yearly goals and growth plans for a loop. Break down your plans and assess them with a mindset that understands there are uncertainties to come. For example, our business has the opportunity to expand into several additional real estate verticals and pursue more global expansion. But we need to make these growth plans clear, and sometimes put one region or initiative on hold if it’s better for the business at large. 

Because that unfettering will to succeed is present in entrepreneurship, sports and races alike, focusing too much on the end goal is a common trap. 

Stay agile to embrace ever-changing circumstances 

Whether you’re committed to a training regimen or executing on a quarterly plan, there is always the potential for everything to change at the drop of a hat. The difficult times we’re living in now, and the collective challenges we face as a result, reveal the apex of adaptability. 

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When the pandemic prompted a panic in real estate—as property managers and sellers searched for solutions to keep business from grinding to a halt in a socially-distanced world—SmartRent leaned into the Self-Guided Tour solution we launched last year, and added single-family customers into the mix. 

And just as work shifted remotely, so did Ironman training sessions and the community built around races that many rely on for motivation. While I don’t know when the next Ironman race that will be safe to travel to will be, I’m adapting to the circumstances and adjusting my training ritual accordingly, just like others in the community. 

Practice gratitude for those uplifting you on your journey 

From entrepreneurship to marathons, no one can do it alone. Whether it’s my family supporting me during my toughest training days or my team working tirelessly to finish an exciting project, the people who are supporting me along the way play a key role in achieving my goals. This is true for business,  career, and personal growth. Showing gratitude for all that is paving the way for your journey as an entrepreneur (or athlete) is a key element of the self-development journey. It has an impact on your team, too. Gratitude in leadership correlates directly with patience, which has a prized impact on workplace productivity, collaboration and wellbeing. 

Studies have also shown that gratitude influences resilience – a crucial trait for athletes and business leaders alike. The dispositional optimism that can accompany gratitude, especially during tough times, is integral to both the inner athlete and entrepreneurial spirit. 

Whether your goal is to accomplish your biggest race yet or to just weather the storm of the pandemic, channeling focus and agility could be the keys to pushing through the challenges of today or tomorrow. 


CJ Edmonds is chief revenue officer of SmartRent,  an Amazon-backed startup that develops smart home technology for rental apartments.

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