Cycling’s Top Five Leadership Lessons

Recently I participated in a two-day cycling event to help raise funds to combat multiple sclerosis (MS). Hours in the saddle with nothing but open road clears the mind to make room for greater perspective. One thing that occurred to me along the way is that cycling offers lessons in leadership. Several to consider:

#5—Communication is Key to Survival. As more and more cars, pedestrians and cyclists converge in the same space, real risks abound. To minimize those risks, it’s essential to be visible and signal to those around you, so people know where you are and where you are headed. The same is true for business leaders. Stakeholders need to see you leading – they want to know your path forward, and they don’t like surprises. Clear and consistent communication is vital if you want to move an organization ahead.

#4—Teamwork Moves You Further, Farther, Faster. As demonstrated in cycling’s premier event, Le Tour de France, teamwork separates the good from the great. From taking turns upfront to block the wind and conserve energy for those trailing, to dropping back to grab water then riding it back up front to others, a well-honed team will outperform a lone ranger every time. While business leaders absolutely need to push ahead of the pack as needed, organizations only succeed with the right team working in concert, possessing the right skills and deployed in the right jobs. Everyone must also have the tools to succeed and understand how their individual efforts directly benefit the greater organization.

#3—Explore Paths Beyond Familiar Routes. On a bike, it’s easy to get comfortable revisiting the same routes, at a light pace, and generally sticking to what’s most familiar. While that’s fine for recreational cycling, in business it can be costly. The only way to move an organization ahead is to be self-aware of where you are and to create a plan – with clear measures of success – for mapping where you want to go, and how you intend to get there. It also requires the drive to push beyond your comfort zone so that even stronger results can be attained. More of the same only gets you more of the same, while taking calculated risks and trying new paths can open opportunities for breaking through to the next level.

#2—Coasting Won’t Get You Up the Next Hill. Coasting allows cyclists to catch their breath and re-energize for the next push. While business leaders may be tempted to coast a bit when times are good and the wind is at their backs, that’s a wise time to pedal even harder. You can’t count on current momentum alone to move an organization ahead. Instead, you have to guide it and keep pushing forward to maximize the ground you are covering and to prepare for inevitable uphill challenges that might await just around the next bend.

#1—Enjoy the Ride. Both cycling and business can be hard, but they must be fun, too, or you should do something different. Take in your surroundings, celebrate successes and appreciate all that you and your team are achieving. With apologies to Emerson, leadership, like cycling, is about the journey, not the destination.

John F. Fitzpatrick co-manages Stratacomm and leads the firm’s transportation practice group.

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