Yesterday I completed my first “century” (100 miles) bike ride…101.38 miles to be exact, but who’s counting? I took up cycling as a casual hobby a couple of years back, riding 10-30 miles at a time. Wanting to ride faster and farther, I purchased my first road bike 7 months ago and decided to set a goal for myself: complete a century ride sometime in the next year. Throughout the process of achieving my goal of completing a century ride, there were a few leadership lessons that emerged that may be helpful to you in your ongoing leadership journey.
1. You have to put in the training – In January I joined a training group sponsored by my local Trek bicycle store. Over the last 14 weeks we’ve completed a series of training rides over progressively more difficult terrain and distances, all working toward the goal of completing a century ride. Without this training I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish my goal. It prepared me physically and mentally to tackle the challenge of riding 100+ miles in a single day.
Becoming an effective leader requires training as well. Most people in leadership positions were promoted into their role because they were standout performers in their particular area of expertise as individual contributors. People leadership is a whole different ballgame that requires a different set of skills. You need a combination of formal and informal training as well as mentors to show you what it means to be a good leader.
Before training for my century ride I already knew how to ride a bike. I had even rode distances of 40-50 miles on my own. But I had never ridden in large groups, rode in a peloton, worked in rotating pace lines, or knew the in’s and out’s of proper nutrition and hydration on long rides. The proper training equipped me to achieve my goal. Don’t neglect your training as a leader. It’s essential to become the kind of leader others want to follow.
2. Pace yourself, it’s a long ride – Thinking about riding 100 miles can be overwhelming, especially when you look at the terrain on a map and see 5,000+ feet of climbing over the course of your ride. However, it seems much more manageable when you break it into four rides of 25 miles each. We had planned rest stops along the course where we could catch our breath, grab a bite to eat, and recharge our batteries for the next leg ahead.
Leadership requires you to have a long view of success. You can’t judge success solely on short-term results; you have consider long-term effectiveness. It’s tempting for leaders to rely on command and control leadership. “Do what I say and do it now!” We want results and it seems like the easiest and quickest way is to tell people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. However, that will only yield short-term results. Long-term success is achieved by developing your team members to have the skills and abilities to achieve success even when you’re not there to guide them. That takes time and patience on your part as a leader.
3. Rely on your team members to help share the load – It can be up to 30% more efficient to ride in a peloton than it is to ride on your own. A core component of completing a group century ride is learning how to share the workload among everyone. Riders take turns riding at the front of the peloton, absorbing the brunt of the headwind so that everyone behind can pedal a little easier and conserve energy. After a few minutes in front, the lead rider drops to the back of the line and enjoys the benefits of the peloton while another rider takes a turn in front.
We like to make successful leaders out to be icons of individualism and self-achievement. The truth is that leadership is a team sport. Leaders are only as successful as the people on their team. If you want to be a great leader, surround yourself with smart, trustworthy, capable people. Give them the needed tools, training, and resources and let them do their thing. You’ll notice that your job as a leader becomes a whole lot easier and you can accomplish much more together than you could on your own.
4. Endure – 100 miles is a long way! My average speed of 15.1 mph meant I was in the saddle for 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 13 seconds to be exact, but once again, who’s counting? (Obviously I am!) When you factor in times for rest stops and mechanical fixes, the entire day of riding was 8.5 hours. I’ve been experiencing tendonitis in my right knee the last several weeks and I battled it during much of my ride yesterday. However, the combination of prayer, ibuprofen, Bengay pain relief cream, and a jolt of energy from a tasty Snickers candy bar enabled me to push through even though I had lost all strength in my knee over the last 10 miles of the ride.
Our leadership journeys are the same way. The daily fire fighting we experience combined with the long-term pressures of leading teams and organizations takes its toll. Sometimes we feel like we don’t have anything left to give, but we dig down a little deeper and we keep on keeping on. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to rekindle your leadership spirit. Take those vacation days, attend conferences, read new books, seek inspiration from mentors, and practice times of solitude and reflection…whatever it takes to keep you energized for the journey ahead.
5. Celebrate wins along the way – Part of what makes it possible to endure climbing up a long mountain hill is knowing you’ll get to celebrate the reward of going down the opposite side. We also had a few friends and family members who positioned themselves along the course and cheered us on as we rode past which was great encouragement. And of course, I knew my wife had a great celebration dinner planned with our family that made the finish line seem just a little closer and attainable.
It’s easy to get burned out so it’s important to celebrate your leadership wins on a regular basis. It’s even more important for your team. Your people need to experience your leadership as more than just slave driving or a constant focus on results. That wears thin after a while and eventually you’ll lose the commitment of your team. Be intentional about planning celebrations, whether it’s as simple as a potluck lunch or extravagant as an offsite team building event. Your team will appreciate the consideration and will reward you with higher and sustained performance.
P.S. By the way, May is National Bike Month in the United States, so if it has been a while since you’ve experienced the joy of riding a bike, pull yours out of the garage and go for a little spin.