So the four-minute barrier stood for decades—and when it fell, the circumstances defied the confident predictions of the best minds in the sport. The experts believed they knew the precise conditions under which the mark would fall. It would have to be in perfect weather—68 degrees farenheit and no wind. On a particular kind of track—hard, dry clay—and in front of a huge, boisterous crowd urging the runner on to his best-ever performance. But Bannister did it on a cold day, on a wet track, at a small meet in Oxford, England, before a crowd of just a few thousand people.
When Bannister broke the mark, even his most ardent rivals breathed a sigh of relief. At last, somebody did it! And once they saw it could be done, they did it too. Just 46 days Bannister’s feat, John Landy, an Australian runner, not only broke the barrier again, with a time of 3 minutes 58 seconds. Then, just a year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Over the last half-century, more than a thousand runners have conquered a barrier that had once been considered hopelessly out of reach.
Well, what goes for runners goes for leaders running organizations. In business, progress does not move in straight lines. Whether it’s an executive, an entrepreneur, or a technologist, some disruptor changes the game, and that which was thought to be unreachable becomes a benchmark, something for others to shoot for. That’s Roger Bannister’s true legacy and lesson for all of us who see the role of leadership as doing things that haven’t been done before.