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3 Things Cycling Taught Me About Leadership

Written by advance on . Posted in Leadership, Management

Source: LinkedIn. Author: Desmond Courtney, Leadership Development Specialist at Economical Insurance

It’s cycling season in Canada, which means I’m on the road with my fellow MAMIL’s (Middle Aged Men in Lycra).  So, from now on, when you make fun of
those wacky cyclists, be sure to get the terminology right, we’re wearing lycra, not spandex! 

Cycling is a great sport for all kinds of reasons and lately it has me thinking about the concept of trust and how we can apply it to our daily leadership walk.  Riding in a pace line or a peloton of riders is exciting, technical, and a little scary.  I’d say the same thing about leading people…

Here are the 3 things I’ve learned about leadership and trust from cycling:

1. You don’t have a choice.

Imagine riding your bike in a pace line in a group of 10-20 people (or more) with your front tire mere inches from the back tire of the rider in front of you, travelling at speeds between 35 to 50 kilometers per hour (or more).   In that situation, you don’t really have much of a choice whether you’re going to trust the people around you to do the right thing.  You just do.

In rare circumstances, that trust is broken and people get hurt.  But, the vast majority of the time, we ride safe, fast, and clean.

The thing is, we hold each other accountable.  If someone makes a mistake, we call them on it.  When I make a mistake in the pace line, I get called on it.  We call each other on our mistakes and then help each other understand how to be better.  We don’t just say, forget it, I’m not riding with that guy anymore because of one simple mistake.

Once the decision has been made, we often don’t have a choice who is on our team.  But we always have a choice on how much trust we’re going to give them.  Even more than that, we always have a choice about how we’re going to help them get better when they make mistakes (which we all do).

 2. You’re always faster in a group.

In cycling, you’re always faster when riding in a group.  Those big lines of cyclists you see riding together help the entire group ride faster, farther, and more efficiently.  When we trust the team to do what they are supposed to do and hold each other accountable, we go farther, faster.  I can’t ride at the same pace on my own as I can when I’m in a group.

The same is true at work.  I can’t go as far or as fast as I’d like on my own.  We often want the recognition that we perceive will come with a rugged individual accomplishment.  It’s never as good as going with people.  I can’t remember ever completing a race and thinking I would have been faster on my own.

On occasion going alone is faster.  I find it’s only in the small, shortsighted projects that it’s possible to go alone.  In the long run, when working on big picture, strategic and important work, you’re always faster in a group.

 3. Clear expectations make things better.

In cycling, the person at the front of the pace line has the hardest job.  They’re doing all the hard work pulling the rest of the pack through the wind.  The further down the line you go, the easier it gets.  The expectation is that everyone takes a turn leading the group.  Each person has their turn working the hardest for the rest of the team, so there’s times when you’re benefiting from the labor of others.

But sometimes people bail on their responsibilities.  Sometimes riders will sneak to the back of the back just as they are approaching the front of the line.  And that can be frustrating when it seems like they aren’t pulling their weight.  But it’s all about expectations.  Frustration is the fruit of unmet expectations – which is to say, we get frustrated when other people don’t meet the expectations that we place on them.  The problem is, most of the time we don’t communicate to each other what those expectations are.

Frustration turns into collaboration the minute we communicate what we really need or want from each other.  If that sneaky rider says to the rest of the group that they aren’t feeling strong, or confident, maybe they’re dealing with an injury or something, so they aren’t able to pull at the front, guess what happens?  Frustration melts away and we rally around them.

Clear expectations make things better.  If you’re feeling frustrated with your team, chances are very high that your expectations have not been communicated.  Working on a team that trusts each other and builds each other up is fun.  It makes us want to come to work.  It’s everyone’s responsibility to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

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