Leadership Lessons from the Track: Reflections on Running with Purpose by James Weber

Noelle Ihli

"Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it." James Weber’s words aren’t just a feel-good mantra—they’re a call to action for leaders everywhere. 

Weber’s book Running with Purpose provides a playbook for authentic leadership and purpose-driven branding. Weber draws on his experience leading Brooks Running Company to reveal how leadership, like running, requires vision, stamina, and strategy. 

Harness the Magic of Passionate Purpose

When Weber's lifelong love for running blended with his leadership role at Brooks, he learned the importance of combining passion and purpose. While it’s unrealistic for every CEO or leader to merge their favorite hobby with their profession, finding genuine passion in your work is vital. 

Start by making a list of what excites you about your business. When things get tough, use that list as a reminder of why you started down this path in the first place. This type of introspection isn’t about pondering abstract ideas. It’s about reconnecting with your most authentic self as you make decisions, set goals, and prepare for the road ahead.

Take Action: Schedule a monthly “introspection break” to revisit what excites you about your business. Turn it into a ritual—a favorite coffee shop, a specific playlist, a comfy chair. Use this time to reflect on your deepest motivations, adjust course if needed, and plan your next steps.

Apply Weber’s Four Pillars of Leadership 

When Weber took over as CEO of Brooks Running Company, he designed a leadership strategy based on four core principles—or pillars—he’d honed throughout his career. Each pillar merges purpose and strategy to drive success.

Regardless of your business type or sector, you can apply these same pillars of leadership to succeed by “liking what you do and liking how you do it.” When you combine authentic leadership (passionate purpose!) with these pillars of purpose-driven branding, success follows: 

  1. Own a Niche

When you enter an Apple store, the gleaming white walls and sleek devices on display create a sophisticated atmosphere that stands out from the competition. Ben & Jerry's is just as distinctive in its way, with colorful cartons of ice cream with quirky names like “Cherry Garcia” that customers have come to see as iconic. 

Can you pinpoint what separates your business from everyone else? Scrutinize your product or service to uncover its unique qualities, then use this knowledge to establish a strong connection with customers. This way, when they think of your product, they’ll know there’s nothing like it anywhere else. 

  1. Build a Moat

Businesses need to differentiate themselves, and they must make their unique brand proposition impenetrable. Consider LEGO, with its distinctive—and patented—brick design. Not only does this design offer customers a fun toy, but it also gives LEGO a defensible competitive advantage and greater brand loyalty. 

Take Action: Need to figure out what your moat is? Seek customer feedback to discover what your loyal consumers love about your product/service. What makes your offering better or more appealing than your competitors? That’s your moat. You aim to create something unique and desirable that competitors can't access or imitate. Dig in and surround your business with it. Then, keep it solid and defensible through devoted resources and attention.

  1. Solve for Profitability

The race isn't just about speed; it's about endurance. Profitability helps ensure that your business will have staying power. IKEA does this well by rigorously optimizing processes without compromising on quality. Their flat-pack design process ensures that their pieces are easy to assemble, stylish, functional, and cost-effective. 

Take Action: Regularly take time to review your business systems and processes. Look for ways to save costs without skimping on the fundamentals. Remember, every little bit counts!

  1. Remember: Vision Without Execution Is Hallucination

In running and leadership, the roadmap to success isn't just about dreaming—it's about doing. Weber champions the concept of envisioning the future while actively creating it. All those dreams of being the next industry leader are just dreams until you put in the work to meet your goals.

Take Action: Start small. Pick one goal for the month and break it into weekly tasks. Achieving these smaller milestones will give you the momentum and mindset to tackle the more significant tasks.

Put the Rubber to the Road

Weber didn't just create a blueprint for a successful company; he ran with it, turning Brooks Running into a highly successful venture. It’s that age-old proverb of “actions speak louder than words” in practice.

Time and again at Brooks Running Company, Weber demonstrated the power of taking decisive action on his four pillars of leadership in alignment with his core values.  

While Weber’s pillars of leadership are powerful, they are useless without execution. Create an action plan that meshes with your deepest values, then delegate and follow up. And, of course, don’t be afraid to pivot if something’s not working.

Ready to Run?

How will you adapt these insights for your leadership marathon? Whether you're sprinting ahead or pacing yourself as you grow, remember to enjoy the run and learn along the way. 

Remember, every stride you take is an opportunity for growth and learning. So, embody your core values, keep Weber’s four pillars of leadership at the forefront, and keep moving forward!

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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