With the 2009 Tour de France beginning today — on July 4th, I can’t help but write an article on Lance Armstrong. For those of you who know me, I am a passionate cyclist and it would be out of character to ignore this opportunity.
One of the many things I like about cycling is that it clears my head and allows me to think through my challenges (or opportunities <grin>). The routine pedal strokes and breathing put you in a state of mind that is very similar to meditation. While I ride, I have the opportunity to work through many business issues. I have been surprised how many parallels I have noticed between business and cycling. The following is a summary of some of the most important ones:
- Clearly define your goal – Over the years, Lance has been criticized for not competing in more races throughout the season. Many professional cyclists ride far more races prior to the Tour de France than Lance. However, Armstrong has been very clear that his goal is to win the Tour de France. He focuses his entire effort on that single goal. Define your goal up front. Get out of businesses that don’t make sense. It can be very difficult to walk away from revenue. However, if it distracts you from your primary goal, then “just say no”.
- Don’t start without a strategy – Are you a hill-climber or a sprinter? Will you attack early in the race, or late in the stage? Every business needs to establish a strategy up front. However, be willing to adjust as the race progresses.
- Pick a great set of coaches and then listen to them – Lance has a large staff of coaches and advisors. Yes, he is a professional with years of experience. However, he also listens to the experts. Build a board of directors and board of advisors that you trust and then listen to them.
- Pick the right team and then trust them – Armstrong surrounds himself with what he believes is the best cycling team in the world. The thing many people don’t understand about the Tour de France is how important the team becomes. They break the wind so that Lance can “draft” off of them and use up to 30% less energy. They protect him from the other riders. They bring him food and water. Your executive and departmental team is just as important.
- Pick the right equipment – Armstrong rides on state-of-the-art equipment. His engineers have invented new gear that gives him specific competitive advantages. Make sure you are leveraging every appropriate piece of business technology.
- Use state-of-the art techniques – New cycling techniques are developing constantly. Some work and some don’t. However, cyclists test new methodologies relentlessly. In business we need to do the same. Don’t ignore social networking because you think it is a fad or a waste of time. Investigate it and then make your own determination once you have the facts.
- Train/prepare appropriately – There is no excuse for poor preparation.
- Understand the course – Armstrong is known for training on the Tour de France course itself. He trains for months on the same course he will be racing. Understand your business plan and be clear what the course will look like.
- Understand the environment – As much as you prepare, you can’t always anticipate bad weather. Understand your market. It will change like the weather, but if you plan for contingencies, you will have cold/warm weather gear available.
- Research your competition – There are 20 teams racing in the Tour. Lance and his team (Astana) know every other team and rider as well as they possibly can. You need to know your competition equally well.
- Take calculated risks – No successful executive or business owner has reached their goal by sitting back and being careful. Lance doesn’t sit at the back of the pack. He attacks the stages. However, his attacks are calculated against the risk profile. Take business risks, but only when the benefit outweighs the risk.
- Pick your battles – The Tour is 21 stages long. The teams have detailed strategies on which stages to win and which to sit back. Business is the same. You can’t win every battle. However, you can win the important ones.
- Pace yourself – The 2009 Tour is a total of 2,175 miles. Whether you are riding the tour or working toward a specific business goal – pace yourself or you will burn out.
- Be humble – Many people think that Lance has won because he is super-human. The truth is that he is a phenomenal athlete. However, he is the first person to tell you that he has won because he has surrounded himself with an excellent team, world-class coaches, leading sponsors and then has been better prepared than any other rider. Lance would not — and will not — win the tour without his supporting cast. Any successful business executive will tell you the same thing.
Whether you are riding in the Tour de France, a cycling century (100 mile ride) or just around the neighborhood, it is a journey. Leading your business to success is no different. Don’t cut corners – make sure you are prepared. With a lot of preparation and a little luck, you will be holding the trophy at the end.
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