Breaking the Four-Minute Mile In Business

Team Coaching

You may not be the next Roger Bannister, but you can be the person who coaches him or her. Here’s how.

Today’s post is by Steve Farber, founder of The Extreme Leadership Institute.

Do you ever fantasize about being the first person on Mars or the next Steve Jobs? How about something more in the athletic realm, like the runner Roger Bannister, who famously broke the four-minute mile in 1954? He went the distance faster than anyone had done before him and achieved something once thought impossible. Surely you know him and his story well.

But have you ever heard of Franz Stampfl? He’s the unsung hero of track and field, an Austrian coach who mentored many of the athletes who gained fame for beating that record in the years since Bannister.

I recently read an archived profile of Stampfl in Sports Illustrated and was very impressed, but not by his aggressive approach or his specific coaching techniques. What struck me is that he transmitted love to those he was mentoring. You wouldn’t think that would be the important ingredient in getting people to run faster, but it was. One of the athletes, British two-time Olympian Brian Hewson, was quoted as saying:  “I never realized it was possible to work so hard in training and love every minute of it until I was coached by Franz. He makes running appear like an expression of beauty instead of a tough grind.”

Now think about the people you mentor or supervise. Is that what they’d say about you? Do you, like Stampfl, transmit not only the killer instinct and the technique but the joy and even the love that is below the surface of every business challenge?

Stampfl was said to have such persuasive ability with the people he coached that even a recording of his voice was enough to get an exhausted athlete to snap back. According to the story, his communications with athletes were “so loaded with passion that they [were] almost impossible to ignore.” His runners would do anything to avoid disappointing him; they’d never consider overlooking a syllable of the advice he gave them.

All in a day’s work, you might think, for someone who was being paid well as a coach. But here’s the really interesting part: this wasn’t a game (even an Olympic Game) to Stampfl. It was the very stuff of life to him. He was, the story goes, completely laser focused (if there was such a thing in the 1950’s) on the athletes, and their needs. He didn’t pay attention to any naysayers, commentators, or theorists outside the circle of himself and the people he was working with. So it wasn’t just love of the sport that he was teaching. It was also focus, based in unconditional love of the kind that a leader can and should show to any protégé in any field.  Love which builds the trust and the bond that, in turn, can pave the way to greatness.

How do you make your own protégés into four-minute milers? Think about what Stampfl would have done. Are you letting the gossip mill, the daily schedule of meetings, or even this kind of advice column distract you, or are you making and keeping your people as your top priority? Top performers need to know that your loyalty is unswerving and unconditional. To the extent you can do that for another person, do it for the people you’re mentoring.

It can seem like a mean world out there. Let the sound of your voice and the tone of your advice always be what your people can rely on and believe in.

Steve Farber is founder of The Extreme Leadership Institute, an organization devoted to changing the world through the cultivation and development of extreme leaders in business, nonprofits, education, and beyond. Listed on Inc.’s ranking of the Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts in the world, and #1 on Huffington Post’s 12 Business Speakers to See, Farber is a bestselling author, popular keynote speaker, and a seasoned leadership coach and consultant. For more information, please visit

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