What I Learned About Leadership From Cycling - Part 1 of 3

There are few things more satisfying for me than hopping on a bike with some cycling buddies and spending a couple of hours chewing up the miles. 

A few years ago, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran finish-line photos of the now-defunct Tour de Georgia when it ended in Atlanta.  One caption included my favorite description of cyclists.  About five riders were racing to the end in a tight pack, and the caption read, “A group of spandex-clad, waif-like men cross the finish line of the Tour de Georgia.”

Not exactly the fearsome image I was going for, but probably pretty apt.

Believe it or not, spending hours in the saddle has actually given me some insights into organizational leadership.  Allow me to share some of them: 


·         When things get tough, sometimes the best solution is just muscling through – If you´re on a 100-mile century ride that makes a big loop to bring you back to the starting point and you begin to “lose it” at mile 60, you have two choices:  turn around and retrace your steps, or just keep pedaling and move forward.  Obviously, there is no point in retreating in that situation, since the way back is longer (60 miles) and, therefore, more painful than the road ahead (40 miles).  Nor is there any point in complaining.  You got yourself into the situation, and complaining doesn’t alter your circumstances.

Many work-related situations are less than thrilling, but few problems are resolved by retreating.  Just lean into it.  Although complaining may make you temporarily feel better, it doesn't make problems evaporate. 


·         Don't psyche yourself out – If you're exhausted at 60 at miles, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of facing another 40.  But setting your sights on intermediate goals – like making it to the next turnoff in 3 miles or the next support stop in 5 – reduces the sense of hopelessness. 

Early in my healthcare career when I worked in hospital planning, I would sometimes get immobilized when trying to analyze a very squishy or ill-defined problem. I found that if I could identify an aspect that I did understand and begin to learn what I could about that, I would inevitably gain insights into the larger issue and ultimately solve the entire complex riddle.  Bite-sized is good.


·         Know what factors really matter and address them – In biking, it´s all about legs and lungs.  I can complain about the weather conditions, that my bike is too heavy, or that I don´t have all the right equipment.  But in the end, what matters most is how well-conditioned my legs and cardiovascular system are.  Both can be improved, and if I’m not willing to do the interval or conditioning training required, I have no one but myself to blame when my disappointing showing makes a repeat performance on the next ride. 

Each task on the job has a few "critical success factors" and the sooner I ferret them out and get to work on them, the greater my chances of success.  And the solution may require some remedial work on my part to get up to snuff.  So just get to it.


So these are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.  There are two more installments, so stay tuned!