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    5 Tips to be a Better Cycling [Team] Leader

    By Mark McCatty, Leadership & Team Advisor

    I used to dislike cyclists. That said, you should know where this impression came from. I was a runner who was recruited to become a marathoner. As such, I would spend a lot of time running the streets of whatever town I was in. As a runner, I would prefer not to run on the sidewalk so I would run in the road. I found the concrete hard on my body and sometimes there are cracks in the sidewalk that can trip a runner. So, a runner is supposed to run against traffic when running in the road. Cyclists ride in the road, and they ride with the traffic. Do you see it? We are both in the road…in the same space. This can create conflict.

    Additionally, cyclists seemed very unfriendly to me. There typically is a bond between people who share a common goal. So, I would wave to the cyclists passing me but they would not wave back. I remember thinking they were an unfriendly lot. It was not until I became a cyclist that I begin to understand that they were not being rude. A group of riders operate in a cluster called a peloton. When riding in a line in this peloton, there must be an intense attention on what’s going on in front of you. Any loss of focus, like a friendly wave at the wrong time, can create an accident with disastrous results. As a cyclist, I’ve seen these situations and the consequences these crashes bring.

    In my work with business teams, I see some similarity between a working team and a cycling peloton. Ultimately, there is a right-way and a wrong-way for the peloton to operate. And ultimately, the accountability for the safe and successful operation of the team, or the peloton, lies with the leader. So, here are 5 tips that will lead to being a better cycling [team] leader.

    1.    Leaders direct the pace, but the team will set the pace.

    The goal is for the entire team to operate together, as one. There should be no surprises on the ride that could create a hazardous condition. Everyone should work in alignment, as one riding force. It is the ride leader’s responsibility to direct the pace of the ride. They set the expectations and guidelines that the riders should follow. But, it is the actual riders that will follow the expectations and maintain the pace. What I’ve seen is that without the buy-in from the riders, the leader is unhappy. They are left to fume in silent frustration, or they spend their energy yelling and lashing out at wayward riders. This does not create a climate of enjoyment on the ride. It does not induce riders to want to volunteer for the next ride.

    Application: The leader must get buy-in to get the result they want. Buy-in starts with an inspiring vision that is compelling enough for people to rally behind and commit to following.

     

    2.    Be predictable and keep others from being surprised.

    One of the challenges to any team is unpredictability. Change is always an issue. But, as the saying goes the only thing certain about change is that it will happen; we can predict it. But being unable to predict what will happen makes planning harder and heightens risk. Because of operating with unpredictable circumstances, everyone must try to be attentive to everything. This broad focus reduces effectiveness and makes mistakes more likely.

    Application: The leader establishes collaborative team behaviors where each team member will alert other team members to potential opportunities and risks.

     

    3.    The front rider focuses forward, but is accountable for the rider directly behind them.

    The riders in the front see more. They have greater insight and awareness that those who follow. The lack of sharing this foresight, when information is not passed back to those following in line, can create uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to loss of effectiveness. It slows things down. Each rider must take ownership for those that follow behind their wheel. They must make every effort to inform, guide and protect those riders that depend on them. The lead rider must be aware of not only what is happening in front, but also be responsible for the rider directly behind. If a gap develops, the lead rider must call out the gap to the pace leader. In this way, the pace can be adjusted to keep everyone together and keep the ride safe and fun. If the riders that follow have any doubts about the level of concern, accuracy or timeless of the guidance they will receive from the person directly in front of them, they will operate with hesitation. In the absence of an accident, we see this in the slowing and speeding up of the pace line; the accordion effect.

    Application: To increase efficiency and satisfaction for the team, each rider is wholly responsible to be the leader for those who follow.

     

    4.    The rider in back takes their lead from the rider they follow.

    The other side of this partnership is the trust that must develop between the following rider and the rider directly in front of them. Even in the tour, there is a “coopetition”. While there is a competition there is a cooperative spirit to complete the ride safely. If trust is well-founded, meaning the ride is predictable and others are maintaining their individual responsibility, the follow-on rider only needs to focus on the wheel directly in front of them. This level of trust makes those that follow vulnerable. But when the peloton is in “flow”, each rider can take their eye off any distraction and focus only on the wheel in front. In this condition, the pace line moves in concert; as one. The ride requires less effort because of the drafting effect and smooth transitions between pace line leaders. It is a wonderful experience. You see the effect of this when you watch the Tour de France. This level of performance is hard to acquire. It’s the amateur cyclists who try to ride like a Tour de France pro, without the prerequisites of good ride leadership, that end up crashing themselves, or others. At best, these rides turn out with frustration and more effort spent than should be required.

    Application: Trust is critical to teams, and it takes time…and great leadership, from each team member, to develop.

     

    5.    Take care to manage the elements you can control [equipment].

    This last element deals with the technical aspects of the team. Well maintained equipment creates greater reliability. No matter how well a team works together, an unexpected equipment failure can cause significant problems. Each team member is responsible to monitor and maintain their equipment. Trust is based on having reliable equipment operated by qualified and focused hands. Having the skill to manage equipment, and behave like a good team member is not enough. The equipment must be able to respond to the demands of the rider. This is especially important for the lead riders. Everyone is following strong and expecting their lead rider to keep them alerted and safe. When that lead rider’s equipment falters it effects everyone who follows. I’ve seen and experienced, first hand, the human calamity resulting from this poorly maintained equipment condition.

    Application: Use predictive maintenance and don’t wait until equipment fails to do needed repairs and upkeep.

     

    A Peloton, like any good team runs well because there is a high, and well-placed reliance on each team member to fulfill their responsibilities. And when there is a fail, and there will be, there is a willingness to address the issue. There exists a level of trust within the team which allows people to receive correction. Members are open to feedback. Everyone is willing to learn. Because of open communication, there is a greater commitment to the team, and accountability to uphold. And ultimately, everyone is focused on doing their own, individual part to make the ride the safest, and best ride possible.

    Real leaders understand that they cannot dictate these conditions. They can only inspire and motivate the cyclists to aspire to this level. And together, the team develops and coaches each other to higher levels of performance…and enjoyment. Ride Safe!

    Mark McCatty - Leadership & Team Advisor

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    As a leadership and team advisor, I have helped numerous organizations, through speaker presentations, group training, and individual coaching, to meet the challenge of creating engaging and purposeful work environments. 

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