Running, leadership and business

May 21, 2015 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Leah Rosenthal, Advancement Officer

How to Win the Leadership Race: Running and Leading: One-day conference
In today’s complex life and work environment, leadership skills are required at all levels in the organization. Successful leaders must have an understanding of their own personality and leadership style. They must have the leadership skills and the physical fitness, emotional health and mental toughness to succeed. 

Running, leadership, and business

From food executive to running inspiration, John Stanton discusses how running changed his life.

IMG_2336How it all began

John Stanton, founder of the Running Room, was not always an active man. A successful food executive, Stanton put his focus on his family and his job, but neglected himself. That is until running transformed and changed the course of his life.

“My two boys encouraged me to do a ‘fun run’ and it was a wakeup call. I knew I had better do something to improve my health. So, I started to run,” recalls Stanton. “Quite literally running changed my life.”

From running before the sun came up around his neighbourhood, to completing 5 km races and working his way to an Ironman, Stanton began to notice the physiological benefits of running.

“Being athletic is a good thing. But it applies to everything: goal setting, discipline, consistency, confidence, training programs, and the belief that you can and will do it. I believe that applies to running and to business. A lot of our business is being an athlete. Progress until you can achieve your goals. And I think that in life we need to take that same approach.”

The idea of the Running Room came to Stanton while on a family vacation. “We were on holidays and I went into a specialty running store and I was like a kid in a candy store. I thought, ‘this is what Edmonton needs.’” Being a retailer and having retail training, Stanton began the process of opening up his first location in 1984, three short years after his son’s challenged him to a ‘fun run’. Originally Stanton was going to continue his executive job and work part-time, evenings and weekends at the store. That soon changed.

“I was able to transfer skills and began to share the story of my transformation with ordinary people. I was relatable and I liked what I became. And I liked helping them realize their potential,” Stanton reflects. After deep thought and discussions with his wife and family, Stanton took the risk and quit his job; a risk that has certainly paid off. The Running Room is now one of Canada’s most recognizable athletic brands.

How did the Running Room grow from one store in Edmonton in 1984 to over a 100 stores in Canada and the US currently? Stanton led the right people to create an environment of success.

You have to learn to trust and allow all employees, including the next leadership generation, to make mistakes and learn from them.

The Running Room’s mission is to be the best running store in the world. Each day Stanton asks himself and his team to give their best effort, and then tomorrow try to better it. The passion for all-things running comes from the top at the Running Room. Stanton has devoted a lot of his energy to nurture his leadership team.

“If you are a good leader, one of the things you discover early on in your career is to surround yourself with the best people,” Stanton begins. “People who are competent and capable, passionate and skillful but who also share in the values of your organization. And then the real kicker is learning to let go a little bit so those people can thrive and do their job.”

Leadership in business is an important aspect of the Running Room, especially as a family owned and operated business. Putting family in the right areas of responsibility so that they can command respect of their peers and allow them to grow all while maintaining the company’s values, can be tricky. “You have to learn to trust and allow all employees, including the next leadership generation, to make mistakes and learn from them. Sometimes it is hard lessons. But are good lessons for growth.”

Leadership Advice

  • Lead people by allowing them to have different experiences to help them grow, by giving them guidance and supporting them. Don’t be a drill sergeant.
  • To motivate people, you need to understand people and give them opportunities to thrive. You have hired someone and you see something in them. Nurture them and they will grow.
  • If Obama can make time for exercise, so can you. Physical fitness leads to better performance under stress.

Advice for new runners

“Be gentle and keep it gentle. You want to remain highly motivated and injury free but motivated to push yourself. Increase your mileage 10% each week. And remember, running is a lifelong choice – so have fun!

running_full-page_v1The Running Room is North America’s largest specialty Running & Walking Retailer of sporting goods, apparel and footwear, operating 114 corporately owned stores from coast to coast. For more information visit


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