I know you could make similar sporting analogies. Humour me it’s Friday, I am allowed! Those who know me know I am an avid cyclist. Twice a week work permitting, including a long ride in on the weekend. I have toured, done Sportives and Audaxes and pottered into town. I love cycling. Those who regularly cycle are able to reel off the physical and mental benefits. One of them for me is the time and space to think and process unhindered. During these times I often mull over a variety of things. On of these are the synergies between cycling and leadership. Here are some of the musings I have come up with. You may have your own – please do tell me…

The right equipment to do the job

Remember your first bike and how it would be suitable it would be for your style of riding now? Riders learn through experience what they need. We try to get the bike, type, fit just right for our needs at this moment in time. We are also continually looking forward and adjusting as our cycling styles evolve (N+1cycling joke!). Leaders need the development, experiences, business knowledge and behaviours that help them with their current teams and where the organisation is now. Yet they are not static. Leaders should be continually adapting and changing, seeking the right tools and skills for they know will be ahead. Leadership isn’t a tick box exercise, done once, it is continually added to.

It doesn’t just happen

Becoming a good cyclist (in whatever discipline) doesn’t just happen. The same with leadership. This year I was lucky enough to do the infamous and epic Fred Whitton sportive in the Lake District. It was hard. I learnt about the bike and myself in the preparation and during the event. Pushed and stretched myself. Listening to the feedback my body and bike were giving me. I made changes. Effective leadership requires investment, intent, and want. It needs to be practiced, reflected upon and evolved daily to be the best possible leader. It is a continually present activity. You can’t just come back to it when you have done your other ‘stuff’. How are you investing in your leadership?

Not all about the equipment

Anyone can talk about leadership but you have to live and breathe it to make a difference to themselves and others, and to be effective. People have to believe you are a leader and want to follow you. It’s about leadership substance, not show. Employees can readily differentiate the two. A suit and title ‘doth not make a leader’. In cycling I am the most important link. I am the engine, the planner, the navigator, the motivator. Equipment will only get me so far. Many will spend thousands of pounds on the latest and lightest bikes. In reality, this only makes limited difference to performance to the average rider. It’s more about being seen to have ‘THE’ bike.

Supporting peers

Cyclists will stop to help other riders with issues, break downs. Or at the very least you will get a ‘you ok mate?’ as they approach you. Cyclists share their bike knowledge, race experiences, gear ratios, in fact anything and everything cycling and bikes. Cyclists seem to have time for other cyclists. Leadership isn’t a solo game (though it might feel like it at times). Leaders have a responsibility to their peers in tough times and good. Standout leaders support and nurture other leaders. They formally and informally coach and mentor their leadership peers. Healthy leadership is not selfish leadership.

We (mostly) acknowledge each other

Like VW campervan or Landy drivers, cyclists mostly acknowledge each other on the road. Young, or old, new to it or not. Roadie or mountain biker (well maybe not!). There is a camaraderie amongst riders, it means something in that moment. Leadership is about people. A Director I worked under would overtly acknowledge employees, every day, spend time with them. It made a difference to them in that moment, in their day with that leader. It influenced the culture. Unfortunately, many leaders will pass through their offices to get to their desks without acknowledging a single person… Do you?

Working for others

In club or group rides the person at the front will push harder, enabling others to ‘draft’ behind them. This makes their cycling just that little bit easier, enabling them to ride further. Leaders exist for their teams and organisations. They find new business, push to be competitive, bring about change to make employee work more effective and efficient. Leaders have to step up be at the vanguard, be courageous for others, even though it can be risky and challenging at times. In many ways leadership isn’t for that leader themselves. Indeed many posit Robert K. Greenleaf’s concept of Servant Leadership.

Scanning the environment

When I am cycling I am scanning my environment continually. Using my senses to read what’s around me. Looking for potholes (don’t have to look too hard), road limit points, listening for traffic, mentally predicting what might happen. Continually being aware and adjusting direction, speed, tempo in order to maintain my performance, no matter the conditions. Similarly, effective leaders do the same. Using internal and external information and feedback to influence performance, provide information, adjust strategy or to support others. Leaders aren’t effective if they only focus on their own little ‘bubble’, or only a narrow field of view ahead of them.

Constantly communicating

When cycling in groups we constantly communicate and share. Most club cyclists ride tightly together so communication is essential. Letting others know of vehicles approaching from the front and rear. Waving with hands to signify pot holes or uneven surface. Flicking an arm behind to tell the cyclist to move over because of a parked vehicle, other cyclists or horse riders. Cyclists are dependent upon the riders in front of them. Beware of the silent leader. Effective leaders are always communicating, even when they aren’t aware of it. Good leaders ask don’t tell. They use all the skills and behaviours from their experiences and repertoire to share, include and inform.

It becomes part of who you are

Cycling is a healthy addiction. It often becomes part of your DNA. You enjoy it, look forward to it. You feel the effects when you haven’t ridden for a while, you miss it. (However, your partners might not feel the same way). You think about it and often talk about it with others. Maybe even join cycling groups on Facebook (sad I know). Leadership isn’t a 9-5 activity, switched on and off. Successful leaders are leaders all the time. Never quite off duty. Socially, events, networking, parent teacher meetings etc. they are always observing, absorbing and learning, consciously and otherwise. Much of this is then translated into their organisational and people roles, directly or by osmosis.

I hope that these words perhaps get you thinking a little bit more about your own leadership and maybe cycling too! If you want to have a more serious conversation about coaching and leadership development, get in touch today!

Nick Howell has trained and coached hundreds of leaders to help them be the leaders they aspire to be for themselves and their organisations. He uses knowledge gained these experiences to inform and develop leaders, through his articles, coaching and training practice.