Transferring Skills From Sports to Life & Work

Transferring Skills From Sports to Life & Work

The PeopleStar Podcast — Season 1: Episode 23 — Posted April 27, 2022

Transferring Skills From Sports to Life & Work

Transferring Skills From Sports to Life & Work

The PeopleStar Podcast — Season 1: Episode 23 — Posted April 27, 2022

About the Episode

There is a direct connection between leading and sports!

This episode’s guest is Jeff Lukich, a man who retired to coach endurance athletes after working in child welfare and State Government in Georgia for more than 30 years. Jeff reflects on the parallels between teams in sports and work, and how leaders can transfer skills from one to the other. Perseverance, patience, and strategic planning are just some things Jeff found in both endurance races and in leadership. He also shares how to deal with unexpected adversities and having to problem solve on the fly. Encouraging people to be curious will spark a million ideas to work better and more effectively.

If you are a sports practitioner and hold a leadership role at work, we hope this episode is helpful to transfer skills!

Key Takeaways

1

A lot of Ironman athletes need coaches.

2

Grit and perseverance are common skills between leaders and athletes.

3

Coaches often help you see a light in the path.

4

Endurance sports challenge your body, mind, and spirit.

5

One cannot prepare for every situation, sometimes one will have to navigate the circumstances.

6

To be able to deliver your 100%, you have to take care of yourself too.

7

Curiosity fuels performance.

Transferring Skills From Sports to Life & Work

About Jeff Lukich

Originally from Charleston, SC, Jeff Lukich has worked in child welfare for the past 33 years.

He began his career with the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services in 1989, remaining with the Division for 30 years. For the final six years of his career, Jeff served as the State Director of Field Operations and the State Director of Child Welfare.

He retired in 2018 as the Division’s Chief of Staff, where his responsibilities included oversight of nearly 8000 staff, a $1.4 billion budget, and all aspects of the Division’s programs, including child welfare, eligibility, policy, budget, and communications and legislative affairs.

In 2019, Jeff accepted a Senior Director position with the Atlanta–Washington DC management consulting firm, DLH Corporation. In this role, he is responsible for developing and leading human services initiatives, including child welfare. Jeff also does independent consulting through his consulting business, MOVERE Strategies, LLC.

In addition to his consulting work, Jeff has a passion for endurance sports. Owner and head coach of Drive Multisport, LLC., Jeff is a veteran short and long-course triathlete, marathoner, and endurance coach providing triathletes, distance runners, and other endurance athletes with an exceptional, service-oriented coaching experience focused on communication and feedback.

He is a 10x Ironman Finisher and Boston Marathon Qualifier. His coaching philosophy centers around thoughtful goal-setting, acting on available performance information and feedback, and creating shared accountability between the athlete and coach.

Jeff is a graduate of Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, with a BA in Political Science and History.

Additional Resources

Related Article: How To Develop Leaders In Your Organization

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Episode Transcript

PeopleStar_Jeff Lukich: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

PeopleStar_Jeff Lukich: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

PeopleStar Podcast Intro:
Welcome to the PeopleStar Podcast. We deliver leadership perspectives from industry experts on their people, architecture, routines, and culture as they solve HRs newest challenges. And now your host, Julie Rieken.

Julie Rieken:
Good day podcast listeners, Julie Rieken, host of PeopleStar Podcast. I'm here today with Jeff Lukich and Jeff today is going to be so fun. You worked for 30 years in State Government. You've been retired for four years and in State Government, you manage the child welfare department in Georgia and oversaw thousands of people. And now you're doing things with endurance athletes and performance and coaching people, is that about right?

Jeff Lukich:
That's right. That's right. Again, I worked for State Government for about 30 years in Georgia, starting at entry-level position right out of college. And at the end of my career, I lead child welfare in the state of Georgia. And over the past 12 years, I've also coached endurance athletes, runners and cyclists, and triathletes.

Julie Rieken:
I love the connection of leadership and sport, and I think that's the track we're going to take today. Let's just establish you as, you've established yourself, a 30-year veteran of state government and working in child welfare. Tell us a little about some of your athletic endeavors, give us a few of your accomplishments here.

Jeff Lukich:
Yeah, it's been a wonderful journey. I have, I've gotten back in the running. I was probably 35, and so 20 years ago or so, I got back into running just to get healthy. And before I knew it, I was road racing again. So running a lot of races, and then that just continued to snowball. I got into triathlon in about 2007 and started racing long course triathlon in 2008. And long course triathlon, most people know is the Ironman distance, and I got involved in that. And I would say for the past 12 or 13 years, I focused solely on long-course triathlon, throwing in a few marathons and other races along the way, but that's been my primary focus. And it's a very popular sport, so a lot of athletes across the US and even internationally are in need of coaches for Ironman. So I mostly have coached long-course triathletes and ultra runners.

Julie Rieken:
That's amazing. So much respect for Ironman athletes. And you mentioned that you threw in a couple of marathons here and there, and you actually have a pretty big day coming up here, Marathon Monday, Patriot's Day in Boston. Will you tell us a little bit about that? I just want to shout out what you've got coming up here in a few days.

Jeff Lukich:
Sure. I'm real excited. So next Monday, I will be toeing the line with 30,000 other runners from across the world, across the globe for the Boston Marathon. It is not only my first time racing the Boston Marathon, but it's my first time in that wonderful city. So I look forward to that as well. And so, yeah, the weather looks pretty decent, and I'm going to head out and see what happens!

Julie Rieken:
Couldn't be more excited for you to run that race and celebrate with all of the accomplished runners in Boston. I'm going to look forward to hearing how it goes, so that's amazing, so.

Jeff Lukich:
Absolutely.

Julie Rieken:
We're here to talk a little bit about, as you know, we talk about people, leadership, and HR in our PeopleStar Podcast, and the thing that I think, the thread that, that I really want to get from you is what have you learned in terms of managing large groups and sport? And what are some of the parallels that you've seen that make, that leaders can take from sport? Can you just talk to us about some of the things that you personally have learned and how you find these things connected?

Jeff Lukich:
Yeah, absolutely. And I would say in my last six or seven years in state government and in higher-level leadership positions, first of all, I don't know what I would have done without sport. And I should also say there are many wonderful leaders, as you know, who are not endurance athletes. So I want to just come out and say that, however, I believe that my endurance world, so the world I live in as an age group athlete, I think it's absolutely made me a better leader over the years. And first of all, I think just grit and perseverance alone would be the first two that I would throw out that as an endurance athlete, you know, we have to do a lot of planning. And then, of course, race both short and longer events, and without grit, without that ability to stick to something, both the training plan and then sticking to your target, pacing targets, for example, in an endurance event without the ability to stick to it, you won't be successful. And that same thing applies in business and in leadership. If you're not able to stick to something, whether it's a plan or whatever your vision is for your agency or organization, then success will come your way. And then I have to add also on the planning side, just planning and being patient are two other things that I have learned as an endurance athlete that have applied in my leadership world. So you have to be able to be a world-class planner just managing a full-time job and then going out on a run or a swim or a bike ride. But you also have to have patience and understanding that success can only come through patience, that you won't be able to get everything in the here and now you have to be patient.

Julie Rieken:
So true. Jeff, when you were leading in Georgia, in the child welfare department on that agency, did people know that you were an athlete? Did your people know?

Jeff Lukich:
They did! They, especially those that were closest to me, knew that I had this other part of my life that meant so much to me. And whether, whether it is, they knew I was going out on a run in the afternoon, or at lunch they knew I was swimming, and I would come in to a meeting and still smelled like chlorine, you know, just the simple things like that, I had to maximize my day in order to fit everything in, and especially when I was racing the longer, you know, the longer events. But yeah, everybody knew that that was my passion. And I think people were very curious about it. Like people were very curious about this crazy thing that I did before and after work.

Julie Rieken:
I bet they were. When you think about how it helped you lead, what's the thing that you say? You know, because I did this, this thing made me a better leader. I mean, you talked about grit and perseverance. Can you give us a story about how did that help you the most?

Jeff Lukich:
I think the, I think the fundamental thing that helped me the most is the endurance athletes that I coach and myself as an endurance athlete, we, we all have one thing in common, and that is that we believe that there are no limits, that, you know, I coach people who race 12-hour races, to 30-hour races, and often they won't stop, they'll continue to find longer events. So I would think that the belief that there is, there aren't limits to what we can accomplish is that fundamental belief and vision that I had as a leader as well, and I think it was a key. It was a really a key to how I led staff and what we were able to accomplish, you know, in my former career.

Julie Rieken:
Definitely, and so what I think I'm hearing you saying is that one of the things that you've seen in terms of endurance athletes is that there's, there's no limits and that you use that belief to help elevate the agency and the people that you were leading, is that right?

Jeff Lukich:
It is, in our job as a leader, in my job as an endurance performance coach, is to help people see a light within themselves that they may not see. And when leaders are able to do that in their staff, within their organization, and people begin to believe in themselves and they believe in the mission and vision of the agency or organization, then they can accomplish anything.

Julie Rieken:
So you just said something that's interesting. You said helping people find a light that's in them. And you mentioned that you restarted some of your athletic career a little bit later. What light did you find inside you?

Jeff Lukich:
When I made the when I'm making the change and the sports,

Julie Rieken:
Yes!

Jeff Lukich:
I'll be, yeah. Well, I think there can come a time when you can participate in an endurance event or sport, let's say cycling or running. And then it comes a time when you feel like you may, you could learn more in somewhere else. And so for me personally, as an endurance performance coach, as a triathlete, of course I've run as a triathlete, but I also coach a lot of marathon single sport marathoners and ultrarunners. And so later this year, after Boston, I'm making a shift as an age group athlete, I'm moving away from triathlon into ultrarunning. And that's because I believe I can learn more by immersing myself in that particular sport that can not only challenge me as an athlete, but help me be a better coach and help coach athletes who focus in that area. And the thing about endurance sports is it should be fun, obviously, and then provide health benefits to you, but it should also challenge your mind and body and spirit, and then you can change, and that's the thing about endurance sports. You can always cycle in and out of different events and sports, like swimming, biking and running and other things, so that's why I'm making a change personally.

Julie Rieken:
To focus just more on endurance running and the longer distance things?

Jeff Lukich:
That's right.

Julie Rieken:
Jeff, I have a question for you about Monday's race. What are you going into it thinking? How are you going to survive it? What are you going to do? What's your philosophy about Monday?

Jeff Lukich:
Well, there are two things, there are two things. I always begin every race with gratitude and, and I, on a personal perspective, I grew up in a low income household, and I had some adversities as a child. And so it's never lost on me that people like me, who are able to participate in endurance sports, that not everybody is able to do that, whether it's financial challenges, physical challenges and so on. So when I toe the line at the Boston Marathon and I'm soaking it all in, it will be from a place of gratitude first. But then I would say I'm a competitor at heart. So my job at Boston on Monday is to execute the plan that my own coach and myself have come up with in order to cover 26.2 miles within the targets that I hope to set or I hope to meet for that day. So I do have outcome goals for Monday, so I have an outcome goal, which is always time and pace, but I have process goals as well. So a process goal would be the, how I pace the course, my nutrition, my mindset throughout the day and that sort of thing, so gratitude first, a competitor second.

Julie Rieken:
That's amazing. I wanted to ask you, you mentioned you have a coach. Can you tell me why you have a coach?

Jeff Lukich:
Yeah, I have. since I've been serious in triathlon since 2007, I've had a coach that, the whole time. My current coach is out in Boulder, I live in Georgia, so it's a virtual type arrangement. I have a coach for the simple reason is I cannot be objective, objective about my own training and really none of us can be completely objective. And so the guidance, support, and accountability that she provides me is exactly what I need to perform at my best. So we have to go back to what I said earlier. You know, as a coach, we want to help people see a life within themselves or strengths within themselves that they, they can't see themselves. So my coach helps provide that very same, same thing to me. She challenges my assumptions, she's not always agreeing with what I think the plan should be, and that's exactly why we need a coach, we need somebody to be our eyes and ears when we can't.

Julie Rieken:
That's amazing. I've got to ask you another question here. Boston can be variable in its weather. Let's just say that something happens to the course, whether it's weather, your gear, nutrition, you hit something, some adversity, how will you overcome the adversity if something like that happens in Boston?

Jeff Lukich:
Right, without going into too much of a deep dive. As you point out, Boston's weather can be unpredictable. The good news for me is Georgia's weather, this winter, has also been very …, like it's been wet and cold. And, and so as an athlete, we want to expose ourselves to as much race specificity as we can. So you better believe I was out running in the coldest weather or the wettest weather as I can to prepare for what Boston may, may bring on race day. But to your, so you can't prepare for everything, though. So if something happens on race day, I think the ability to problem solve in the moment and stay calm and come up with another plan is, is another characteristic that I've really tried hard over the years to develop as a leader and an athlete. So things will almost never go your way on race day. In fact, I would say out of the ten Ironman's I've raised across the US, I might have had a great weather day in two of them and others, there have been rain and wind, and an Ironman Texas, back in 2016, there were tornado warnings and hail. And so the course can throw everything at you, but you have to stay calm, again you have to be grateful for what you have in front of you and you have to be able to problem solve very quickly and get through that.

Julie Rieken:
I can only imagine that in your 30 years in State Government and child welfare, you had a few things that came at you that were, …, in the moment, kinds of things. How do you take these two lessons and weave them together?

Jeff Lukich:
Yeah, well, first of all, you have to believe in what you're doing. And so being in State Government, especially child welfare, where the stakes are very high. So you can imagine children under the careful watch of the agency, whether it's in foster care or whether or not we have practitioners working with families. The stakes are really high, given that you have to you have to bring your A-game every day like you really, especially in my business, you have to believe in what we're doing on behalf of families and children. And then you have to be at your very best and that requires a good bit of self care. And so the one back to why I'm an endurance athlete myself, it is a type of self care, but believing in what you're doing, I think if you're, if you can wrap your head around the mission of the organization and you believe in it with your heart and mind and your staff are on board as well, that can, that in itself can carry you through adversity, you really have to believe in the vision and the mission of the organization.

Julie Rieken:
Yeah, that's true. Jeff, do you have any advice for people out there that are thinking about leadership and sport and they're thinking about how they should think about being a better leader through sport or through any lessons they've learned? Do you have any advice that you might share with with other leaders about things you've learned?

Jeff Lukich:
Yeah, there are, there are many things. But what's come to mind today is curiosity. I think that one thing that I've encouraged in people around me, in myself, is to always be curious and as a leader, and even in endurance sports, if you're curious and you have curiosity as one of your primary fundamental characteristics that you embrace and you learn about, well, first of all, it fuels performance like curiosity, fuels performance, whether it's in an agency, organization, or even as an athlete. And so when you're fueling performance and you're always thinking about how we can improve. Curiosity really is one of the things that gets you there. And so curiosity, I love it. In fact, I wrote an article about curiosity some years ago, it means so much to me.

Julie Rieken:
Wow, that's amazing. I think I'd like to wrap on gratitude. I am really grateful for hearing from an endurance athlete today about parallels between sport and leadership and really personally excited for you on Monday, I'm going to get on my Boston Marathon app, find your bib number and just be wishing you all the very best, and I'm grateful for today. This has been so interesting. thank you for being a guest!

Jeff Lukich:
I appreciate it. It's such an honor to be with you, Julie. I really appreciate it. I hope it brings some value to others and your listeners.

Julie Rieken:
I hope so too. Good luck on Monday. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff Lukich:
Thank you, Julie.

PeopleStar Podcast Outro:
Thanks for listening to the PeopleStar Podcast. For the show notes, transcript, resources, and more ways to get a seat at the table, visit us at TrakStar.com/Podcast.

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