Posted by: kevinliebl | July 4, 2009

Business Lessons We Can Learn From Lance Armstrong

Lance ArmstrongWith 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 surrLance Podiumounded 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.

If you have interest in learning about the Tour de France or Lance Armstrong, I highly recommend reading the following two books – 23 Days in July and It’s not about the bike.

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  1. Great article! Any business will succeed if it’s doing the right things consistently. But no one is perfect in everything. You’ve got to team up with many others with different expertise. I agree that’s the key which made Lance win.

  2. Forget Armstrong, what about Roddick or Federer?

  3. Great article.

    If I had to choose one “Lesson from Lance” it would probably not been any of the above. Instead, it would be the Perpetual Determination and Drive. Overcoming testicular cancer and jumping not only back onto the bike, but back on the fast track of success with more determination and drive than many men combined, Lance really has driven his life with intensity in a way that we should all step back and reflect. I myself lost a testicle to cancer, and look upon him as a true life hero. The more I learn about him and see him continue on with his determination and drive, the more determination and drive I seem to find within.

    Keep up the great writing!

    • Byron,

      Great comment! Agreed. I focused on the parallels between cycling and business. However, there is a whole additional blog that could be written on Lance himself. Once you read the books I mentioned on my blog post, you can’t help but be amazed by his courage and determination.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Best to you and your journey!

      – Kevin

  4. Kevin – Being an avid rider and racer, I know exactly what you mean about clearing your head and allowing new thoughts (personal and professional) to bubble up. Now, Lance is quite a topic to discuss as he embodies so many great attributes of a great competitor, leader and mentor. I have read all his books and come away amazed, excited and pumped. There aren’t many like him, if any at all, in the public eye today. Even his new commercial are incredible and have such a powerful message. I have to pick the most important parallel from your list above it would be ‘clearly defining your goal’. I do marketing consulting work and find that ~80% of the time marketers do not have a goal or their goal is not clearly defined (metrics). Surprising for sure, but the 20% that have defined their goals track them like a laser, something that’s really great to see. Same for riding/racing. Pick a goal and then go for it. You know exactly what you need to do and you sacrifice whatever it takes to reach that goal.
    Keep up the great blog and safe riding,

  5. I agree with your article, Kevin.

    Most of the time, I find myself seeing the parallels of my challenges in riding with my challenges in business.

    In the beginning, things may appear harder than they really are. Only because you are new, your mind and body haven’t been conditioned to handle the normal stress. But as time goes by, you realize, you just had to get your muscles (mind and body) used to those movements and to last for that certain length of time. Also, you had to figure out the best way to fuel yourself. It’s trial and error. If that bar or that drink failed you, then you try again. You will get it eventually!

    Everyone is trying to figure out how to make it. When you are tired, so are they. Now it’s down to who’s going to keep on trying.

    Imagine being dropped every time you go out on a group ride. You could just throw in the towel. Stop riding so much. It’s really not your thing. You can never keep up anyway… OR you can keep riding, train yourself at a faster pace. Keep going to the group rides and try to hang on longer (even if it’s just a minute longer) and before you know it, you won’t be dropped. Keep on after that, and you’ll be up with the front.

    It’s easier than you think. It’s the will to keep trying and the ability to be consistent that’s the hardest.

    Thank you for the article.

  6. Kevin,
    I’m not a cyclist in any way, but absolutely love watching the sport. My husband cycled for many years as a teenager and young adult so he introduced me to it. My dream is to one day travel along with the Tour de France (and to meet Phil Liggett of Versus TV of course)!

    Your parallels to business are right on. I’m a consumer marketer and always looking for ways to keep on task, to meet and resolve challenges, be innovative while making the risk calculated.

    Thanks for the insight!

  7. I have just started the book and am already a big fan of Lance.. It seems that he is a superhuman, but he is not. The way he practiced and go miles and miles together is no joke. It takes a lot of gut, courage and Determination to be “Someone”!

    And his mother was also an extrordinary mother. Due to her constant support and motivation, Lance could go higher and become who he is!!!

    Though I differ on one thing, that choosing one’s team is not in one’s own hands. At times one is simply put in a situation.

    Would like to read such good stuff, more often.

    Priyanka Gauri.

  8. Kevin,
    Thank you very much for this article! I’m not a cyclist, but I like the parallels between cycling and business. Cycling is a very popular sport in the beautiful and sunny Southern California however the wisdom shared in this article is universal and beneficial for anyone who wants to hold the trophy at the end. Keep up the great blog and safe riding!

    Most Sincerely,
    Christina Hsiao

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