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Ajay Kelkar: Be kinder to yourself, don’t fight the hill

LiveMint logoLiveMint 17-09-2017 Sohini Sen

Ajay Kelkar, co-founder and chief operating officer at Hansa Cequity, a customer marketing agency, ran his first half marathon in 2006 in Mumbai. He has since completed 12 half marathons, with a personal best time of 1 hour, 49 minutes. Last year, he ran his first full marathon in Amsterdam with a time of 4 hours, 52 minutes. Kelkar, also a cyclist, often joins friends for a run with Striders, a Mumbai-based running group. In an email interview, he explains how running has helped his leadership skills. Edited excerpts:

What impact does leading by example as a fit leader have?

It definitely energizes and also shows everyone that they can run too. Also while everyone doesn’t need to have the same passion, having a clear vision of what you want to achieve gives you and your team a sense of purpose.

How does running influence your performance at work?

Running allows you to think through issues, breaking down large problems into components. One gets used to working methodically on the individual components of running: lots of slow running, steadily building up strength and endurance. Rome was not won in a day. At work also one begins to use a similar approach; pacing oneself and building strength for the long haul.

Any leadership lessons from distance running?

I started long-distance running around the same time as I started Cequity. Who knew that the metaphor of the marathon runner—who battles many “internal walls” before he is successful—would so mirror my entrepreneurial journey. Many of life’s greatest learning’s have come to me on the road. I still remember a few years ago, during one Mumbai half-marathon, when I was pushing myself to get to a sub 2-hour timing. I reached Peddar Road doing a good time, but was still a bit behind my target timing. I started climbing the Pedder Road hill with another unknown runner on my side. And just as I started to open my throttle on the hill, he said something that I now will remember for life. He looked at me and said, “Stop fighting the hill”. His point was that go easy on the uphill and you will more than make up on the downhill. What a metaphor it was for me and not just for running but for life itself. Be kinder to yourself, don’t fight the hill and you can still make your target happen.

How do you balance your training and work?

I have woven running into my life and I do it early morning. It’s also easy when I travel because you just need your running shoes. In key cities I have a few running buddies who I join when I am there.

Has running made you more goal-oriented?

One critical thing that running teaches you is to time your peak, no point in being your best a few months before your marathon. Building up to be your best on the scheduled day is what matters. Again one applies similar thinking at work and paces oneself to the goals that one sets.

Discipline in a runner’s life is paramount. Do you think this discipline also reflects your leadership style?

Running helps you see the fruits of a disciplined programme and you definitely carry that learning into business. As runner and novelist Haruki Murakami put it, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Your toughest race.

My toughest race was the Ladakh marathon (2015). High altitude, and therefore low oxygen, meant it was difficult to get my regular rhythm. Though, having the Himalayas in the backdrop was truly awe-inspiring.

Running With The Boss is a series where CEOs, MDs and senior executives talk about leadership lessons, management mantras, the importance of a fit team and striking a work-life balance through running.

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