Leadership: Just Like Riding a Bike – Preparing to Go Solo

by

cycling shadow_Golden Hour_Phil Gradwell

A recent bike ride opened the doors to my imagination, resulting in surprising metaphors on leadership. Writing about my experiences is a new practice of expression for me and not only is it teaching me how to pay a different type of attention to life, it’s bringing a new and welcome creative energy to it.

Due to heavy rainfall in Dallas this Spring I haven’t been on my bike much. I’m a weekend rider and although I don’t put in a ton of miles I do enjoy riding – a lot. I love being outdoors, the fast pace, and the scenery once we get on the trail that leads to White Rock Lake. This particular Saturday I decided to go out on my own. My husband and I usually ride together – in fact I’ve never ridden to the lake on my own. I’m happy to let him lead the way and just pedal, even zone out (more on that dynamic later!).

First to note regarding my maiden voyage was my late start. I was tentative about riding solo and I procrastinated. This is a pattern for me when facing something that I don’t have all figured out. I could feel myself backing out of the sweat and uncertainty, so I jumped in my gear and started taking decisive steps before I talked myself out of it. I put aside my excuses: The house looks like a pit – maybe I should stay and clean instead.  It’s getting too late and too hot. The plants need watering and the dog needs bathing…You get it.

I began the preparation; the first and most important step in every ride. As with most any physical activity there are risks. In cycling my big concerns are wrecks, equipment failures and ‘hitting the wall’. I did a quick evaluation, addressed what I could and took a chance on the others. A flat tire for example. I’ve never repaired a flat, and they’re fairly common. I was willing to risk needing assistance or having to walk my bike back home. I stuffed an extra tube and CO2 cartridge in my pack, hoping a Good Samaritan would help me if I needed it. Check.

I expected to ride about 20 miles so I packed fuel and water. A midday ride in June in Texas will be HOT and probably humid given all the rain we’d had. I have Type 1 Diabetes and have crashed my blood sugar many times riding, so having carbs on board is imperative. In fact, if I don’t have quick-acting glucose I don’t ride. A glucose monitor, used to check blood sugars is also a must. These items are non-negotiable and I won’t risk riding without them. Oh, and a phone, credit card and identification in case I need help. Everything was packed and ready to go. Check.

Other equipment was also made ready: air in the tires, seat adjusted and Allen wrench in the bag just in case. Helmet, gloves, sunglasses and shoes. All checks.

The ride, which I will write about later, was eventful, energizing and full of lessons. In my organizational life, preparation for projects is very often not given the same attention as planning for a ride. It doesn’t have the excitement as does the launch. Project planning typically takes much more preparation but many failures and re-starts can be avoided by taking the time to do it.

Consider:

  • Are you familiar with your own tendencies when undertaking a new endeavor? I saw my tendency for avoidance and procrastination. I called in my volition to put my butt on the seat and start pedaling (I have to call on this often!). For others the tendency may be to take action without a plan, to overlook risk assessment, or fail to see the links and overlaps between the new project and those already in motion.
  • Has the destination been defined and mapped? For my inaugural solo outing I did not attempt the part of the ride that would require better ‘directional intelligence’ (I am directionally challenged!). In regards to launching this series of posts, I was not able to move forward until I had broken my amoebic idea into defined sections that I could put my arms around. I then assigned dates for completing each section. When I can see the basis of a plan I am much more likely to take action. Are you or is someone on your team this way? Provide a vision and a few steps to help get them started.
  • Do you have the resources (people, technology, materials, skills, finances, etc.) required to support success? What’s the equivalent of your fuel, hydration, glucose monitor, phone, credit card, etc.?
  • Have you assessed the risks and do you know which ones are worth it? This is a conversation the ‘fire, ready, aim’ folks really dislike. They may reschedule many meetings to avoid this topic – engaging in potential obstacles is a real buzz kill for them. This is why diverse teams that rely on each other’s strengths win more races.
  • What experts are available in case of a problem or breakdown? Consider soliciting their advice before embarking. On another note, congratulations if you are going where no one has gone before!
  • Does the project need a seasoned leader or can a ready-to-ride newbie be coached through it?

This metaphor will carry on over the coming weeks. I asked my 20 year-old daughter for feedback on this first post yesterday. She commented that the points could be related to any aspect of life. Excellent! It does appear that life is rich with varying versions of the same basic themes. The trick, and I don’t think it’s a high degree difficulty one, is to transfer our learning and capabilities from one domain of life to another.