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How Leadership is Like Riding a Bike

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October 2011
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(By Jerry Ervin: Reading the article made me realize why I’ve particpate in Ironman & 70.3 Triathlons, 5 times Escape from Alcatraz Tri and the AIDS Life Cycle for 10 years.  I do enjoy pushing the limits of fear. If I wrote down the messeages I tell myself during, it would be a story of shame and limiting belief. Yet, when I come across the finish line, I’m shocked at how those messages were just fear masked and not true.)

By Kendra Ready of the Financial Post:

This past weekend I went out for the final distance bike ride of the season. Afterwards, as I hung my bike up until spring, I reflected on the leadership lessons I learned during my first season as a cyclist. Most of them were learned six weeks into the season when I showed up to take part in a two day, 200km bike tour for a great cause.

You read that correctly. Only six weeks on the saddle before I attempted two consecutive days of 100km+ riding. Needless to say I had lots of time to think and reflect, and here are the leadership lessons I learned from learning to ride my bike:

There’s more to riding a bike than riding a bike; there’s more to leadership than leading. How hard could riding a bike be? I’ve been doing it since I was a child. Turns out that it’s a lot more complex than one might think. Lots of forethought (what to wear for the climate, nutritional needs while riding, what obstacles can I expect & plan for?How long until the next rest stop?), vision (this is especially important when you’re half way through 124km of never-ending hills. Why am I doing this again?), insight (what’s going on in my body? Any cramps on the horizon? How does the bike feel and sound?) Leading is doing; leadership is being. Without insight into who you and those around you are, a clear vision of the world you want to create & live in, and the forethought to plan how that is going to happen, you’re more likely reacting to circumstances than exercising true leadership.

The leader isn’t always at the front of the pack. One of the coolest things about cycling in a group is learning how to draft. Drafting means that there are a row of cyclists all holding the same speed in a straight line. What you may not realize is that the rider at the front of the pack is doing most of the work; the others don’t have to exert as much energy as they catch the draft wind the pack leader generates. After awhile, the first rider will pull out & drop to the back and the second rider assumes the first spot. Really effective leaders know that they can’t do everything themselves – or at least not for very long. Leadership is not about being in the number one spot or carrying others to the top behind you. It’s about using resources, relying on your team, giving other leaders a chance to flex their muscles, and keeping the end goal in sight.

Great leaders know when to surrender. On day one I bonked hard 88.43km. I remember looking at my odometer and thinking “if there were only 12km left, I’d push through”. Alas, the distance was 124km, which meant I was looking at another 36km. I was discombobulated, depleted, hypoglycemic, cramping, and crying. I’ve never not finished. I know how to push through and get things done. I also knew that if I did that this time, I wouldn’t be able to ride 100km the next day. I let them load my bike onto a truck and drive me the final distance. Instead of the judgment I expected, I received support and encouragement from the other riders. After a great meal and a good night’s sleep, I rode 103.94km the next day and finished strong.  A leader knows that sometimes it’s better to live to fight another day than to win today at all costs.

I share my Tour for Kids experience with anyone who’ll listen and I’m often asked if I’d ever do it again. My answer is always yes. Every ounce of my experience was transformational and the great lessons, wisdom, and character I developed were worth every pedal stroke. Any leader will tell you they became who they are today not because everything went according to plan…but because it didn’t. I would love to hear your greatest leadership lessons learned.

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