While at a leadership meeting the other day I heard Chris Brady give a great talk on a success philosophy from Jim Collins called the 2o mile March.  The 20 mile march philosophy  of  Collins and Hansen was adopted from Roald Amundsen, the first explorer to reach the South Pole.  The late 1800s and the early 1900s was the age of the great explorers.  Much honor and notoriety came along with a countries success in exploration.  2 of the great explorers of this aforementioned time were Robert Falcon Scott of England, and Roald Amundsen of Norway.  Scott and Amundsen both had aspirations of being the first explorer to hike the 1400 miles across the dangerous and desolate Antarctic to reach the South Pole.  In 1910 their perspective journeys began.

Scott and Amundsen were equally matched in age, ambition, and experience, but not in strategy.  Scott’s strategy was to take advantage of the nice days and rest up on the nasty days.  Amundsen on the other hand had a strategy of consistency and discipline.  Their goal was to hike 20 miles a day, and only 20 miles, no matter what.

Scott would push the limits to sheer exhaustion on the nice days, hiking upwards of 60 miles, and spend the nasty days recovering from their mental and physical exertion in their makeshift tents and reindeer sleeping bags.  Amundsen on the other hand hit the 20 mile mark on the good days and the bad days.  Whether it was sunny and calm or 40 below zero and windy, 20 miles and only 20 miles was their goal.  As one author said, ‘Routine shall set you free.’  Amundsen used the down time on the good days to check his equipment, make repairs, dry out the sleeping bags, etc…

In December, 1911 Roald Amundsen and his crew were the first explorers to reach the infamous South Pole.  Amundsen’s strategy of discipline and consistency to traverse the 1400 mile frozen wasteland ruled the day!  What happened to Scott?  He and his crew reached the South Pole 34 days later, tattered, exhausted and frostbitten.  Scott and his men soon after froze to death in their ragged tents and wet sleeping bags during their attempted long journey home.

Roald Amundsen, along with his amazing accomplishment of being the first to reach the South Pole,  went on to become the first to reach the North Pole and the first explorer to traverse the treacherous Northwest passage in Canada.  His 20 mile mark strategy of consistency, discipline, modulation, and routine made him one of the most famous and successful explorers of all time.

How does this apply to you and your pursuit of success in these trying socioeconomic times?  I am no Jim Collins or Chris Brady for that matter, but the following are 3 important points I would encourage you to make note of from this story.

1) There is no such thing as a fair-weather leader – There will always be more nasty days than nice days.  There will always be more days where  you are sick, tired, sick and tired, feel fat, fighting with your spouse, discouraged, or just don’t feel like doing anything.  There will always be more days when you get in a fender-bender, get a flat tire, spill something on your suit, and forget your wallet. There will always be more days where you have to deal with conflict, a rebelling teenager and PMS running rampant in your household.  There will always be more days with snow storms, humidity, and rainstorms than days that are perfect and sunny.  There will always be more days that  you don’t ‘feel like’ leading and when success as they say, is on the other side of inconvenience.

2) Procrastination and burn-out are equal enemies to success – As was mentioned earlier, the right routine will set you free.  A proper routine, not to be confused with a rut, will protect you from the dangers of procrastination and getting burnt out.  All of the successful leaders that I know or that I have read about are constantly fine-tuning their ‘success routine’  They have a measured routine of getting what Geoff Colvin calls ‘deliberate practice’, or what Jeff Olson calls ‘the slight edge’ or Sam Parker calls ‘the extra degree’ or what Orrin Woodward calls a ‘daily dose of leadership’.  Success habits, built into a daily ’20 mile march’ routine, is the only way I know of becoming a great leader and staying a great leader.

3) Schedule your priorities vs prioritize your schedule – The 20 mile march philosophy allows a leader to live his purpose, without getting his or her priorities all out of whack.  Your priorities of Faith, Family, Finance, etc…  should be relatively simple to maintain with a fine-tuned 20 mile march success routine.

I encourage you to get ahold of some of Chris Brady‘s CDs and read Jim Collin’s books to learn more about the 20 mile march.

God bless,


About Kirk Birtles

Follower of Christ, loving husband, father of 4, TEAM/LIFE leader, community builder, entrepreneur, difference maker, and fun loving outdoorsman.

11 responses »

  1. Sarah Marsh says:

    Thank you so much for the great reminder!

  2. I love this story and the principles that can be learned from it! Thanks Kirk for your continued leadership! Your blog is awesome!

  3. Aaron Thomason says:

    Kirk, you nailed it again…consistency is what shows a person ‘s character…the good times everyone enjoys but it’s what you do when it gets tough…does your behavior change in a storm…that’s what influences people to follow the strong “rainy day” leader…how do I make when it’s tough…a step in the direction of a 20 mile march is a step in the right direction to becoming a person of positive influence

  4. Chris Brady says:

    Great summary, Kirk, on how this applies to each of us!!

  5. Jason D Wilson says:

    Thanks Kirk for posting such an inspiring blog. I endeavor to master the 20 mile march knowing that such a thing cannot be mastered, but to stretch for mastery in a steady, consistent fashion is my aim. It is such an honor to have worriers such as you and those reading this post in the fox hole as we fight off mediocrity. Thanks my friend.

  6. Daniel Pinkelman says:


    I loved this posting! All to often people tend to think of explosive events or a dramatic change. I too forget the power of consistent effort and working smart. Thanks for your investment inour lives.

    Daniel Pinkelman

  7. Leo & Ricki Wines says:


    So many times are life get so crazy and out of control that we tend to take a break to let life settle. I personally have let that break last too long. I am realizing through your leadership and that of the Life Founders that there is no time to rest for leaders that want to make a difference and impact in the world. Thank you so much for reminding us of and teaching us how to be leaders and stay on course.

    Ricki Wines

  8. Kirk,

    This story is a story of Life itself.
    Everything I do with a consistent effort always produces better results than those I try to over do quickly or take short cuts.

  9. Dan White says:

    Thanks Kirk,

    Good stuff. It’s how we live our life…..day to day. Moment to moment that adds up to success or failure. Our microwave society wants it now. Can’t wait for the good. Instead compromising for the mediocre. It’s principles like those that you have reminded us of that are the ones I want my children and grandchildren to learn and live by. Amen to another awesome blog.

    Dan White

  10. torresch says:

    This concept always makes us stop and think about how our lack of routine is holding us back. We push and push and push until we burn ourselves out and then 1 “fat day” or “bad hair day” and we crash with the excuse of “Look at all I’ve done, I deserve a break.” Well, if we wouldn’t run ourselves down to empty before recharging then that probably wouldn’t happen. This is a great reminder of slow and steady wins the race. It’s so simple and we know it’s true but hardly ever practice it.
    Thank you for this blog as we are sure it will help me on my path to creating habits that will set good examples for our children. God Bless.
    Robert and Christy Torres.

  11. I have read Collins book and am familiar with the 20 mile principle. When I first read it, I reflected back to my 35 years in one Organisation and how it was always about burst after bursts and periods of burn out and resulting toxic behaviors due to fatigue and the need to keep pushing. The losses far outweigh a perceived by others of my great contributions to my Organisation, especially in the last 10 years. The key insight was that I had not paced myself to realie enduring outcomes that will enable me to continue to be of value. With a divorce of 6 years and a health that is deteriorating and the absence of any capability to built a new life, this reflection is a timely reminder to all of us, that slow and steady wins the race. Maxims like Slow is Fast are very essential if we are to have life’s that are full of wealth, health and family. I am convinced that such skills need to be “DNAed” into our future generations, is our children. Disciplined individuals, disciplined in thought and finally in actions( another of Jim Collins) attributes of those who make it from good to great, need to be developed in our youth.
    Thank yu for the reminder and the insights. It is never too late to built such habits but imagine if we had greater mastery of our pace. Not only will be we balanced but we would also have potentially had more positive impacts on all who come into contact with us and that is also our responsibility, especially those vested with great powers.

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