Lessons in leadership from long-distance racing

How business leaders become better people leaders under extreme cycle racing conditions.

Community Series Volume Eight with Julie Reddish Head of Operations at Optimal Workshop.

In this article, the lessons from long distance adventures in cycling can be shown to empower leaders to:

  • Be centered on the whole person to have teams succeed
  • Embrace their vulnerability and become adaptable
  • AND to Live their values loudly

Embarking on a long-distance cycling adventure can be more than just a physical feat; it can also be a profound journey of self-discovery and leadership lessons. My Dad, Lindsay Gault, participates in extreme bike tours and races across continents. He started by riding the length of Africa in the Tour d'Afrique (TdA). He met many business leaders who have taken on extreme cycle racing challenges, such as TdA, and they have found the experiences gained during these adventures have enriched their leadership skills and transformed them into more compassionate and effective people leaders.

Riding in all sorts of weather conditions can be a metaphor for life. Coping with torrential rain and sandstorms throughout the day and night does build grit and resilience. Daily six-hour bike rides give a meditative period to sort out all the issues of living. Looking back and planning forward.

Tour D'Afrique riders celebrate in Cape Town at the end of their epic ride down a continent.
Embrace the Power of Connection:

One of the most significant lessons that leaders learn during extreme cycle racing is the power of connection. In the midst of challenging conditions and unfamiliar territories, riders on the TdA discovered the importance of forming strong bonds with their fellow adventurers. In the business world, fostering a sense of community and shared values within teams can lead to increased collaboration, better problem-solving, and improved team dynamics.

Practical Tip: Encourage team-building activities and open communication channels to build a strong sense of camaraderie and connection.

"We surrendered ourselves to our situation as a group and it made the journey so much more harmonious and enjoyable. There were some beautiful moments of support and love, I remember the desert lava fields of North Kenya, riders struggling into camp after 10-12 hours in atrocious conditions to travel a mere 80km each exhausted rider being cheered on the finish. We celebrated little milestones along the way." - TdA Adventurer.

Embrace Adaptability:

Extreme cycle racing demands adaptability as riders encounter unexpected challenges and diverse conditions. Business leaders, too, must learn to navigate uncertainties and changes in the corporate landscape. Embracing adaptability allows leaders to stay agile and respond proactively to ever-changing circumstances.

Practical Tip: Encourage a culture of adaptability within your organization by rewarding creative problem-solving and encouraging experimentation.

"Your mind needs to become flexible in its approach, reset all your expectations to zero, you can’t create false hope, it only creates disappointment” - TdA Adventurer.

Lead with Empathy and Understanding:

Experiencing the struggles and triumphs of fellow riders during the TdA brought a profound understanding of human struggles. Leaders who have embraced empathy and understanding can connect more deeply with their team members, fostering a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

Practical Tip: Practice active listening and provide opportunities for team members to share their challenges and experiences without judgment.

"A trip like TdA - you see the struggles, at a deep personal level. You understand more about the human struggles.You faced everything that could kill you, and you're still here" - TdA Adventurer.

Lead by Example:

In the peloton during the TdA, teamwork and cooperation were essential for success. The leaders of the group set the pace and provided support to others, showcasing the power of leading by example. In business leadership, demonstrating the values and behaviors you expect from your team members can inspire them to perform at their best.

Practical Tip: Be a role model for your team by exhibiting the qualities and attitudes you wish to see in others.

"Every member of that peloton needs to pay attention, riding tightly, to avoid crashes while gaining efficiencies: the classic risk-reward. The leaders – usually two – pedal at a faster pace for five minutes than they would over a four-hour period; they are carrying the rest of the pack for that brief 5 minute period, knowing that they too will be able to relax once they have done their duty and can drop back." - TdA Adventurer

So what can we learn from these adventurers?

Long-distance cycle racing, such as the Tour d'Afrique, offers an exceptional opportunity for leaders to learn invaluable lessons in leadership. Embracing the power of connection, adaptability, empathy, and leading by example can transform leaders into more compassionate, effective, and human-centered people leaders. By applying the practical tips and fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth, leaders can lead their teams to new heights of success while nurturing a supportive and united work environment.

Lindsay the legend and his trusty steed.  My Dad embarking on another long-distance adventure.
Julie Reddish

Julie Reddish

I’m Julie Reddish, I am the Head of Operations at Optimal Workshop. I have done a bunch of weird and unusual things across a few countries. I really like people. I like laughing, organising things and systems for humans, and taking stuff out of their way so they can do their best work.


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