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

Begin Again, Again

The last post I wrote was so hopeful. I really thought I would be able to jump start some better habits with a blitz and a better understanding of my own story around habits. I went for a bike ride and I felt great, so I went for a slightly longer one two days later. Later that same day I felt like I had the flu–my body ached in my joints and lower back. My fuzzy thinking also came back with a vengeance. I felt betrayed by my body.

slack_imgs.com_670Then the world went nuts: two police shootings and a sniper killing police. I knew my resilience was low when I over reacted while watching the Stage 12 of the Tour de France. The ASO (Tour de France organizer) did not move the barriers lower on the slopes of Mt Ventoux when they shortened the race and, not surprisingly, spectators interfered in the race and caused a crash. I stewed about it all day. Then tragedy struck Nice and I really had something to be upset about.

All these days I continued to experience pain, long after my more vigorous bike ride. I continued to ride my cruiser bike around town. But now even long walks or a lot of standing leaves my back so stiff I cannot sleep comfortably. I finally broke down and make a doctor’s appointment. I had low expectations though, for sometime now every symptom I have is attributed to menopause, followed by “there’s no treatment”.

I had two days before my doctor’s appointment and no pain relief. I began imagining all kinds of crazy, life threatening circumstances. Fortunately my Kaiser doctor had reviewed my chart before our appointment and when I told her what I was experiencing, she said “menopause can reactivate your fibromyalgia.” And just making sense of what was going on made all the difference. She gave me some ideas of things I could do to manage the pain, continue to exercise and be able to manage the symptoms.

Today I begin again, again. With less pressure and with renewed energy. With all the crazy stuff happening in the USA and the world, I want to use this space to emanate light in the darkness.

Habits for Happiness

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This morning on the American River Parkway in Sacramento.

I am reading Gretchen Rubin‘s book, Better Than Before, to share strategies for making and keeping good habits and break bad habits. She find making and keeping habits easier than most people. She is among the small percentage of people who are “upholders”. These are people who are motivated by both internal and external expectations. Thankfully she is empathetic to the ways different people approach habits and she provides a multitude of strategies that make success more likely.

Reading this book is giving me an opportunity to rewrite my story around habits. I woke up this morning and thought about what I have to do today and for the holiday weekend. I realized that I have about six super flexible days. I can make it an at-home writer’s retreat. I am calling it my Freedom Writing Retreat.

The Tour de France also begins on Saturday and this is the first time since 2013 that I will be home and able to watch on television for the entire race (July 2-24). This is exciting because I will be able to immerse myself in an event I truly love. I will also be able to frequently hit the open bike trail and enjoy cycling, which reinforces how much I enjoy watching the professionals ride.

These are not habits that I am trying to form for life. I am just focusing on a blitz of behaviors that will make me happy for the next six days, and some other behaviors that will also make me happy through July 24. My questions include: will this increase my overall happiness and energy for daily life, will these habits be easier to uphold because I have reframed them based on my own tendencies and personalities? I will let you know.

Leaders Recover from Failure

I have been watching a lot of sports lately. There was the Women’s Soccer World Cup and now the Tour de France. Sport gives spectators the opportunity to witness the agony of defeat and to study the many ways people choose to respond to failure.

Laura Bassett reacting to own goal in England vs Japan
Laura Bassett was “heartbroken” by inadvertently scoring a point for Japan. Photo and quote source: Daily Express

Maybe you think of failure as a mistake like Laura Bassett’s own goal. Bassett had been playing terrific football in the World Cup when she did something that unfortunately could define her career. Her own-goal in stoppage time ceded the win to Japan. “I couldn’t breathe, my heart was out my chest and I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me,” she said afterward.

I use a broader fail definition. Anytime we are unable to reach our goal then it is a kind of failure. Our saboteurs can have a field day in our head (or sometimes they are living critics sniping at us in person or in the press).  The most damaging is our own self critic, even when the “short of goal” fits into the category of “stuff happens.”

For example, Tony Martin missed the yellow jersey (first place for general classification in Tour de France) in the first stage time trial by just 5 seconds. He closed the gap to one second and continued to pursue the yellow in the next 2 stages. Finally he saw his opportunity and fulfilled one of his dreams by breaking away in the last 3 km and won the stage and the yellow jersey. He took the honor of wearing yellow seriously, so when he crashed within 1 km of an uphill finish on Stage 6 he struggled to get on his bike and finish the race.

Failure may be a gift. First, what we think we want may not be what is best for us. The phrase “be careful what you wish for” often sums this up. Often a failure gives us the space to reconsider what we really want and to reevaluate our goals. Second, we learn so much more from our failures than from our successes. Generally when we succeed we spend little time examining what went well, or what went wrong. Nothing like failure to help us be more introspective.

The critical thing about failure is how you choose to look at the event and what you choose to do next. The key is to consciously choose. Alas, it is tempting and easy to default to a perspective of victimhood or to beat ourselves up because we fell short of our goal or made mistakes. We have a choice of perspective.

Tony Martin receives support from Etixx-Quick-Step teammates.
Tony Martin receives support from Etixx-Quick-Step teammates.

What did Tony Martin do after his crash? He let his team help him across the line. He had an open fracture of collarbone (piercing the skin) yet he struggled through the duties of drug testing, awards ceremonies and interviews, all the time looking like he was going to vomit from the pain. He exhausted every possibility to return to the race the next day and then when he knew he had to go to Germany for surgery that night, he stopped to say farewell to his teammates and thank them for their support. His choices after his biggest disappointment of his career has solidified his reputation as a classy guy and a leader.

I do not know how Laura Bassett is handling her public failure after all the World Cup hoopla. I believe she started for England against Germany and won the bronze medal. Not everyone is able to recover in the moment as Tony Martin did. Nor should we expect them to, so when I say it is important to choose what you do next, I actually mean next and next and next. Then one day you move to a place where you no longer play it over and over in your head and you are no longer identified with the failure.

I have had some big failures and disappointments in my life. My most recent is selling everything I own, quitting my job and putting all of my resources toward moving to New Zealand. I was only able to stay 5.5 months and had to move back to Sacramento. I was devastated and to some degree I am still trying to figure out why and what next. Externally I am better off financially and I am closer to my family, so most people probably think I have recovered. Emotionally I am still processing the failure and I feel more stuck than I look. I am still in the dance trying to figure it out.