Leadership Lessons from the Tour de France


July is one of my most favorite times of the year because it coincides with the Tour de France (TDF). For those of you not familiar with the Tour de France, it is a bicycling competition in which 22 cycling teams and nearly 200 riders race over 2,000 miles over the course of three weeks in France (and sometimes into neighboring countries). Each day of the Tour is its own separate race while the riders’ time for each day counts for the overall Tour. The rider who has the best time over the entire three weeks wins.

The Tour de France is a spectacular event not only because of the sheer competition involved, but because it offers so much in the way of learning about leadership and teamwork.

Let Your Team Members’ Strengths Shine – Within the TDF, there are also other competitions within the overall race, including the best sprinter and the best mountain climber both based upon points. Based upon their individual strengths and weaknesses, each team member is posed to shine in a different capacity. Sprinters sprint, climbers climb, but they don’t necessarily do the other skill well. (As TDF Commentator Paul Sherwen stated on 07/07/12, “I’ve always found the sprinters to be allergic to the mountain.”) I am a huge believer in the idea behind Strengths Finder in allowing your team members to use their strengths toward completing organizational goals rather than focusing on their weaknesses. Find out what your team members are good at, and focus their efforts on that skill.

Teamwork and Sacrifice are Paramount for Success - The TDF is well known for its historic stories of teamwork and sacrifice. Every team has a captain who is usually the individual on that particular team who is most likely to win the overall Tour. The team then works to get the captain the best time every day because that time adds up over the three weeks of the race. If the captain has a mechanical issue with his bike, a team domestique (i.e., riders on the team who are designated as helpers) will wait until his bike is repaired so that he can draft him back to the main pack / peloton of riders. Click HERE to see a short video about cycling domestiques.  In some cases in the past, domestiques have sacrificed one of their wheels or their entire bike to the team captain so he can continue. Create the same expectation of teamwork and sacrifice with your own team. If you are the team leader, set high standards and role model the work ethic that you expect from everyone.

A Win for a Teammate is a Win for the Entire Team – As José Luis Arrieta said about being a domestique for the great Miguel Indurain, “When you have the chance to start your career in so big a team and at the side of a champion as great as Indurain, you grow in the service of sacrifice. I don’t complain. To the contrary, I had the chance to live some wonderful moments. When Indurain won, or another rider for whom we had decided to work, it was a victory for all the team men as well.” Celebrate everyone’s sacrifices and the “wins” they create. Jealousy among team members is a destructive force so create a culture in which group successes are rewarded.

Create Versatility Among Your Team Members – Finishing the Tour de France is one of the most difficult endeavors a human being can accomplish. Each rider must have the skills and fortitude in order to finish every day for the three week duration of the event. While specialization among the cyclists is important (i.e., sprinting, climbing, time trialing), they need to be versatile enough to perform each of these skills in order to finish. Your own team members need to be versatile as well in order to accomplish your organization’s goals. Cross-train your team so that they are proficient in other areas that may not necessarily be comfortable with or understand.
If you have never watched the Tour de France, I encourage you to watch it on NBC Sports to see the incredible display of teamwork and sacrifice. As they say in France, Vive Le Tour!
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