Photo by Tom Curtis
I love July. It starts off with the birthday of the greatest nation on earth, and kicks into three of my favorite weeks of the year. That’s right, it’s Tour De France time. I love the race because despite all of it’s issues behind the scenes, it’s a magnificent spectacle to watch. It’s got all the elements for a good story. It’s got surprise, intrigue, suspense, action, drama, and beauty. What more could you want? This is the time of year that my DVR is very busy.
So what does all of this have to do with anything? Well, we can draw some career parallels from Le Tour.
- We are in it for the long haul. This years tour will cover over 2,200 miles in 23 days with two rest days and a 10ish mile opening day. Effectively, 2,250 miles over the course of essentially 20 days. That’s 110 miles of racing per day! You’ve got to be committed to running the whole thing before you start. Similarly, you can expect to start your career around age 20 and you will most likely be at it until at least age 65. That’s 45 years! Once you start, you are into this thing for the long haul. Plan appropriately.
- You’ve got to budget your energy. During almost every stage except for the time trials, some riders decide they are going to leave the main group (the peloton) and go it alone or in a small group to try and win the day. But, due to the aerodynamics of the peloton, the breakaway riders don’t stand a chance IF the peloton wants to chase them down. But, even if they succeed in staying away and winning the day, they are toast the next day. You simply can’t keep up that kind of effort day in and day out and succeed over the long haul. Similarly, if you bury yourself in your work, you’ll burn out well before the race is over. You have to find a pace that you can keep up.
- Keep your energy reserves high. Competitive cyclists are constantly drinking because the rate of dehydration is very high on the bike. Similarly, each race has designated “feed zones” where team officials hand out bags of food to the racers. Without this, they would simply use all of the fuel in their bodies and ‘bonk’. The bonk is a condition where they are completely out of food stores in the body. You can’t finish the race if you bonk. To avoid bonking in your career, you must regularly head through the mental feed zone and recharge your batteries. Take vacations, turn off the cell phone, keep away from the inbox. Get away from work and do it regularly. Schedule it if you have to.
- Know when to attack. The race champions know when to make their move. They don’t just run off the front recklessly. They are calculating. They know their strengths and their weaknesses as well as their opponents strengths and weaknesses. They come into the race with a plan that’s been developed months ahead of time. You need to have a plan for your career as well. Know where you want to go. Don’t make a move until you are ready. Jumping jobs without real purpose doesn’t lead to gain. Make sure that when you do make a move, it strategically moves you forward.
- Be ready to shift on the fly. This point is the balance to point four above. The race doesn’t always unfold the ways the riders had planned. You have to be able to change your plans on the run. Things happen. Family members get sick, job cuts come, plans get disrupted. These may derail your plans, so you’ve got to be able to step back and look at things objectively, then adjust as necessary. The one thing that you have to do however, is NEVER make changes to your plans in response to emotion. Take the time necessary to be objective and consult with a trusted adviser if at all possible. Everyone should have a mentor they can go to. If you don’t have one, get one.
There are many, many more dynamics of racing that dovetail nicely into real life. However, those are for another time. Today’s stage is over, and I’m inspired to ride my own bike.
Until next time…………
It’s hard to avoid. You see it everywhere. Pictures of the massive Gulf oil spill are plastered all over television, print, and of course the Internet. For most Americans, this is probably the largest disaster of their lives, and it is truly painfull to watch. As a resident of a Gulf state, the spill takes on a greater personal urgency than it would have otherwise. While we won’t know the true magnitude of this disaster for many years, if ever, there are some things that we can glean now to help us in our personal and professional lives. Truly, the most dismal failure is the failure to learn from failure. Whether it be your own failure or someone else’s, there are always lessons to be learned.
I’m not going to take this space to talk about what could or should have been done or to lay blame. We don’t need another blog talking about that . Instead, I’m going to talk about lessons that we as leaders can learn from the oil spill in the Gulf.
Problems can be rolled into opportunities if we are ready. For example, at a previous employer, we had laid out a road map for a massive upgrade project. We had approval and a time line. Because of a need that arose (problem) unexpectedly, we were able to begin implementing our plan a full two months ahead of schedule (opportunity).
- Take Responsibility. Early on, we heard some bickering about whether this was BP’s problem or Deep Water’s problem. For BP, it really didn’t matter. The perception was that this was BP’s problem and BP needed to take care of it. This was an opportunity for BP to step up and be visible and involved in the solution whether it really was BP’s problem at the core or not. Stepping up to be part of the solution instead of playing the blame game builds credibility. Start working on a solution now. Deciding who, if anyone, was at fault can wait until after the problem is solved.
- Be transparent. Hiding things or the perception that you aren’t laying all of your cards on the table builds distrust. Being honest and admitting you don’t have a full handle on the situation or know all the answers may not be the most comforting thing to the people you are communicating with, but it will build trust if the people around you believe that you are working diligently and you are competent. Competency doesn’t necessarily mean having all the answers, it often means having the ability to find the answers.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This point ties in very closely with being transparent. If the problem is too big for you or outside of your expertise, bring in somebody who can help you. Bringing in help doesn’t mean you are weak or incompetent. It means you are human. In this day of specialization, nobody can be an expert at everything. Sometimes you’ll have to lean on expertise outside of your department or organization. Failure to know when you are over your head can lead to costly delays in solving the problem and it quickly eats away at your credibility.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for the flames to be kissing your eyelids before you grab a fire extinguisher. Get involved with solving the problem while it’s still small if at all possible. It’s a lot less messy and a lot less expensive. It also gives you the opportunity to be a hero.
- Stand up and take your beating. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of the human condition. If you messed up or an area of your responsibility messed up, then sometimes you’ve got to accept that and throw yourself on the mercy of the court. We’ve become experts at trying to wring our hands of the blame. Build credibility by ‘fessing up to it’ and dealing with the repercussions. If you’ve handled the previous four points, then you should have an opportunity to build credibility with this one. Nobody likes a weasel, and integrity is becoming so rare that people can be quite taken back when they see it in action. It may be painful in the short term, but leaders must be long term thinkers. Point 5a here would be to make sure you learn from your crisis so you won’t have to stand up and take another beating. For taking too many beatings will surely lead to resume polishing. Smart leadership learns from its mistakes and the mistakes of others. Wise leadership puts that acquired knowledge into action.
Problems are going to happen, that’s a given. Be ready for problems, learn everything you can when problems arise, use your new knowledge to eliminate future problems before they happen, and whenever possible turn your problems into opportunity.