Leadership Lessons from the Tour de France

I have been setting my alarm at 6:00 a.m. everyday since June 2nd to watch the Tour de France stage before I have to get going.  There are always leadership lessons if you pay careful attention.

barrier down
1 K barrier collapsed due to fan interference; photo Telegraph.co.uk

Sometimes the lessons are learned from others’ mistakes. The race organization ASO has much egg on its face for a series of logistical catastrophes. On Stage 7, the inflatable red 1 kilometer marker collapsed and caused a crash. When the race entered the Pyrenees it was clear that the ASO was not investing enough in safety as many spectators interfered in the race. Then on Mont Ventoux, the ASO moved the race short of the mountaintop because of severe winds but didn’t move the fan barriers. At 1 kilometer to the new finish the crowd closed in resulting in an accident, a broken bike and Chris Froome, the race leader (yellow jersey), dashing up the road.

Could this have been avoided? Absolutely. The ASO decided to move the finish line the day before, so they had time to move the barriers. The ASO excuses just grated on everyone’s nerves. It might have caused more angst, but the tragedy in Nice shifted the focus.

Teamwork really matters in cycling. When the race announcers Matt Keenan and Robbie McEwan talked about the Kiwi cyclist George Bennett, they listed “10 Requirements Besides Talent to be Successful.” I sat up and paid attention. They are: 1) be on time, 2) work ethic, 3) body language, 4) effort, 5) energy, 6) attitude, 7) passion, 8) doing a little extra, 9) be prepared, 10) coachable. This is a good list to use for choosing members of any kind of team.

Robbie McEwan added a 11th requirement: stay upright. He was referring to George Bennett’s run in with a spectator on Stage 9. For some crazy reason a spectator decided to cross the road as the cyclists came roaring around the corner. Bennett put out his arm and she fell backward out of the road. Asked about it later and the New Zealander said he “Sonny Billed” her. (Sonny Bill is a fantastic rugby player for the All Blacks.)

daily mail Sonny Bill
All Black Sonny Bill Williams; photo Irish Times

Preparedness brings luck. This has been illustrated again and again by Peter Sagan, Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin, and Mark Cavendish. Their preparedness has enabled them to take chances and advantage of situations resulting in stage wins and more.

Almost every year I am reminded of this lesson: Never give up! This year on Stage 4, the race commissioners had to review a photo finish before deciding that Marcel Kittel edged out Bryan Coquard by mere millimeters.

Irish times photo finish
Stage 4 Photo Finish; photo Daily Mail