5 Lessons in Successful Program Leadership from the Tour de France

I admit that I am a fair weather (okay, indoor) cyclist. Isn’t exercising in air conditioning always better than Texas weather? As a twice-a-week spin class aficionado, I learned a lot from my uber competitive 60-something racing instructor. And, I also began watching the Tour de France.

If you haven’t watched the race, it has spectacular views and the occasional massive crash.

Tour de France

And although there are only a few winners each day, the teams are the real reason any one racer wins the yellow jersey as they roll into Paris.

So what can we learn from the Tour?

  • Ensure every team member has a clear role and has the opportunity to use their strengths. Every program needs climbers, sprinters and all-arounders. A program is not unlike a race course, and you will need the right combination of team members to reach the finish line.
  • Planning and strategizing are continuous exercises. The team leaders don’t plan and strategize before the start and then just roll by in the team bus for 22 days. They meet every day before and after the race to look ahead, review performance, adjust for injuries, and more. The riders wear headsets and get real-time data from team leaders in cars nearby. As program leaders, we should continually review our plans. You can guarantee that the weather will change and the team will need to alter course.
  • Don’t sit up in your seat and celebrate too early. It happens all the time. A racer gets complacent and sits up, arms outstretched, coasting, and rejoicing in their stage win. And then boom! Another racer pumps his way across the finish line a split second before them. It is easy to claim victory too early in a project. Celebrating is important, but it’s important to keep pedaling through the finish line. (And by the way, it helps to know where the finish line is.)
  • Multiple teams band together to reach the same goal. Often times multiple teams will work together as one unit. They will draft each other and take turns setting the pace. Working across teams can bring out even better performance than just working within your own team.
  • The team wins the race. There won’t be just one person walking away in a yellow jersey at the end of a program. And although it looks like there is only one winner at the end of the Tour, the entire team takes away the win.

Our programs are team sports. When the team has clear roles, active leadership and focus through the end, it will end in success. Don’t we all want to stand on the podium, spray the champagne, and wave the flowers? I know I do!

Cheryl Farley is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter at @CherylMFarley or connect by email at cfarley@people-results.com.