The unifying effect of the Belfast Marathon
SOMETIMES in life you get hit with news which, depending on your reaction, helps to define the type of person you are and/or the organisation you are part of.
At the end of last year, my little company, MCE, was rocked by the news that one of our most treasured and popular colleagues, Anna Connor, had been diagnosed with cancer. Anna is the head of our events business and in her relatively short time at MCE, she has made a very big impact and continues to do so despite currently going through an intensive period of chemotherapy after having a tumour removed from her colon at the start of the year.
You never know how you will react to this type of challenge, but with the massive support of her husband Ryan, her family and friends, Anna has faced into her diagnosis and the pain, sickness and utter fatigue that comes with chemotherapy with incredible character. She has refused to allow it to overly disrupt her life with her three gorgeous kids and, though we don't expect her to, she has continued to work very effectively. It's inspirational watching her in action and a pleasure to work with her. Her colleagues' reaction has been exemplary also. On Sunday past, we put a relay team into the Belfast City marathon to raise funds for Bowel Cancer UK (www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mcerunningclub), which has been so supportive to Anna during her treatment. It was one of those days where you get to feel very proud of humanity and all that it can do to help itself. And I don't mean just our little team, which is on its way to raising three thousand pounds for the work of the charity, I mean the marathon itself seems to bring out the best in people.
Many thousands of people who run or participate in some way have challenging stories similar or worse to Anna's but they pull together, the way we did. The city never seems more unified than on marathon day. And I can't think of a day when Belfast exhibits a team attitude better than on marathon day. I only did six miles of the relay, but the atmosphere and support from everybody along the route and at the end was amazing.
From mine and Anna's perspective, the teamwork involved in my colleagues' contribution is inspirational and goes far beyond mere fund raising, though that's important. It's got me thinking more about teams and the ingredients required to build and sustain good ones. No small amount of business literature has been written on the subject, some of it based around leadership, structure, vision and the like. But care seems to be an undervalued, or maybe mis-named, part of successful teams. The MCE team is working very well in managing and supporting Anna through her illness at least in part because they really care for her. And rightly so, she is a superstar. Care is a very strong motivator and it is very pure too. There is nothing fake about it.
While the marathon is perhaps the time when Belfast unifies best, the days before, ironically, had the potential to be amongst the most divisive. In the end, the elections passed without major argument or cat-calling. While the Executive and the Assembly remain suspended, the forum where the only locally elected politicians are actually operating is at council level. Belfast being the largest.
Through our work, we have a fair level of exposure to the councils, particularly Belfast. This was an interesting election. A number of old and wise hands have not been returned and the political party make-up of the council chamber has changed somewhat, though once again, the balance of power falls to the much-strengthened Alliance party.
Quite often councillors get a bad reputation for pettiness, but my experience in Belfast is that most of them, across the parties, work very hard. They care. And that care has brought an element of team work even on very difficult, divisive issues. I hope the new batch of councillors can build on that. I think they can and I certainly hope they can also.
And I fervently hope that in the coming months Anna's strength of character and the care of her family, firends and colleagues helps her through this most trying of times.
:: Paul McErlean (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing director of MCE Public Relations