Cycyling manager: not for everyone.
Everyone has little guilty pleasures, one of mines is to watch endlessly the best stages of the Tour de France. From childhood, biking is one of the favorite things in my life, and in spite of the controversies around cycling in general and Le Tour in particular, my fascination remains indefectible. I love it all… The drama, the determination, the work that goes behind, the views of France from above. The winners. And that’s where it struck me this summer — managing 21st century organizations like a team of the World Tour of cycling is plain wrong.
The Cycling Team Manager has a simple task: win the Tour. While training indoor in winter (or summer in Texas) I watched millions of movies about cycling… and it’s pretty obvious. There is a force, an obsession. The Holy Grail, le Tour de France. Winning a cycling race since the 90’s has become a complex science, unfortunately occasionally supported by chemicals. It involves physiology, “incremental gains” on aerodynamics, understanding of relationships between power and speed, training camps, measurements and KPIs, and incredible amount of planning. Sounds like your workplace, right? A whole organization is devoted to put a man on the moon — or rather, place the leader on the highest step of the podium on the Champs Elysées.
The analogy with aerospace is even more obvious as the modern races find their climax just a few miles before the hardest climbs… so, like stages of a rocket, teammates are consumed one by one to make sure that the leader — yellow jersey to be — gets to that pentacle having saved the maximum amount of energy. They would go up and down the peloton for him, picking up bottles, food, protecting him from the wind in the valleys, giving up their bike if it’s needed. He is the only one that counts. One after the other, teammates — “gregari”, or water carriers — would drop off irremediably in the last climb, doing their best to maintain the tempo as long as they can, making sure the leader does not waste a single pedal stroke before the last explanation, between leaders. The whole team burns itself out for the success of one, as only individual victory counts.
A modern, global, flat organization in most business has to focus on exactly the opposite… Don’t spend too much on helping the leaders becoming better individuals, geared towards their own success. Spend more time on training them being team leaders, and incentivize the way they make the whole team thrive. A Global Business is not an individual sport played in teams. It’s a mass event. Each person in the company, in your plants, in your market facing teams, in your supply chain, has his own challenge, his own Alpe d’Huez to climb, his own sprint to win, every day. Don’t sacrifice many for the success of one, do just the opposite.
So my takeaway? Continue to learn from your team, work hard to help. Give directions, visions, as they are needed and looked for, and help efficiency and consistency. But it’s all about behaviour… Care, support, coach, question, and learn. I want to be able to measure my success by the number of projects I supported, the opportunities I have offered to my team, and by realizing how much we have grown together. And how they continue without me.
There is another takeaway. Too many leaders in cycling? Lemond-Hinaut, Armstrong-Contador, Wiggins-Froome… the team came close to the clash, and losing The Tour. So cycling team managers are careful to identify the lead in the team, visibly, publicly. Frustrated #2 eventually leave when they want to pursue their own quest for success, taking the prime spots in other teams. And redefining their own path to success. That’s not what you want for your talents.