What leaders can learn from bicycling cross country

What leaders can learn from bicycling cross country

When my youngest daughter graduated from Yale University, she informed me she would be returning to the West Coast via bicycle. She was joining a group that was raising money for Habit for Humanity by bicycling across country from New Haven, Connecticut to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. More than 4200 miles, 2 ½ months, and over the Rocky Mountains.

Now you have to understand—this is a girl who hadn’t ridden a bike in many years and when she did, it was never for more than 1 hour—2 hours tops. She was always physically strong, with great stamina, and excelled in gymnastics in middle school; But 80-120 miles of bicycling a day with no training? Really?

So the first thing this smart, determined girl did was to seek out advice. She asked a friend who had been on the same bike trip the previous year what advice she would give her to survive this cross-country bike ride. Her friend smiled and answered thoughtfully: “JUST KEEP PEDALING.” Karen pressed: “That’s it? That’s your only advice?” “Yep. That’s it. When you think you can’t go any further, tell yourself to pedal one foot after the other, after the other, after the other, and somehow, miraculously, you’ll make it!”

At the end of this 2-½ month journey, I, along with other family and friends, witnessed Karen and her Habitat teammates bicycle triumphantly across the Golden Gate Bridge. She looked strong, exhilarated—and, well, relieved. Her well-deserved pride in her enormous accomplishment was obvious. We celebrated her success and that of her remarkable friends who had supported one another in this arduous, but gratifying journey.

With my 20+ years in developing leadership talent, the parallels between this cross-country bicycle trip and developing leaders call out to me quite clearly.

Here are my 7 take-aways:

  1. Take a strength you already have and volunteer for experiences that will push your strength to a new level.
  2. Find mentors and coaches who can provide sound advice as you undertake difficult challenges.
  3. Begin with strong determination and an acknowledgement that quitting or dropping out is not an option.
  4. Set a “stretch” goal that is doable and realistic, but is beyond what you believe you are capable of doing without significant effort and resolve.
  5. Build a strong, capable team around you who share your vision and goals, provide the human connection, ongoing inspiration, and mutual motivation for you all to succeed.
  6. Celebrate your success! Take time to recognize your accomplishments, acknowledge the obstacles you overcame, and appreciate the distance you’ve traveled.
  7. Build on your success. When faced with challenges in the future, reflect back on this experience and draw on that determination to succeed.

In work, as in life, or in traversing the Rockies, “keep pedaling” is a pretty good mantra to live by!


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