This last weekend has been a huge weekend for cycling in London and Surrey. A city criterium on Saturday followed by a mass participation ride (16,000) and a pro race on Sunday. Cycling has come a long, long way since I used to ride the same roads 15 to 20 years ago. In those days we were a brave band of eccentrics willing to do our own counter cultural thing. These days it feels very much that cycling is “the new golf”. We even went to a birthday party on Friday night where most of the guests were participating in the Sunday ride. I didn’t officially, I was too late to enter, although I did join in for few miles close to where we live – it was a pretty crowded.
Later, I watched the pro race and I was struck (again) by the work of what are known as “domestiques”, the riders who, in cycling parlance, sacrifice their own chances for their team leader. These riders will ride in the wind for long periods, tiring themselves out if the team has a rider they believe could win.
Those leaders work hard to build credibility with their team mates, because their willingness to sacrifice is closely related to their belief in their leader and their leaders ability to win the race. It is a strictly enforced tradition in cycling that the leader shares the prize money with their team mates and does their best to share the glory in post race interviews as well.
The point of all this cyclobabble is the analogy with business leadership. Who would you “sacrifice” for? What kind of leader would it take to put in a level of discretionary effort that cost you in some way? And are you that kind of leader yourself? Do you generate that kind of loyalty in your colleagues?
To be a leader we need, not only to treat people well, communicate excellently and provide clarity of direction, we also need to inspire people with our ability to succeed for the team in a way that is meaningful for the team. In cycling it is obvious enough that succeeding means winning races, but what is meaningful success in business?
In the ’80s and 90’s profit, growth, revenue and beating the competition appeared to work for many people. Today we seem to need a far more nuanced version of success – for example the CEO of VW specifies that their target to be the words number one car maker by 2018 includes being number one in employee satisfaction.
Embodying the vision is a key part of leadership – whether the vision is to win the Tour de France or a cultural shift in a business. Leaders do not need to be the author of the vision, but they do need to be the fullest expression of it’s possibility. And, as I have said before, leaders need to initiate and to have followers. If you can do all of those things you maybe on the way to creating something amazing. Equally if you can see someone doing those things are you inspired to follow? Are you inspired to sacrifice? If you are, you may also be on the way to creating something amazing.
If you think this is helpful – please share it as widely as you can. A world with great leaders would be a better place.
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