On your bike: What leaders can learn from the Tour de France
Anyone watching the Tour de France this year would be hard pressed not to be amazed by the displays of endurance, teamwork and grit shown by the riders over the course of three weeks of gruelling cycling over more than 3,300 kilometres.
Watching this year’s Tour winner Jonas Vingegaard cross the finishing line on Saturday was priceless. And it was hard to miss the beaming smile of Wout van Aert as he congratulated Jonas on finishing the time trial. Equally moving was the picture of Vingegaard embracing his girlfriend and daughter, having said only the day before, he wanted to win for them.
Looking beyond the excitement of this year’s event, there’s a lot to learn by exploring the mindset and techniques used by elite performers to stay at the top of their game, overcome setbacks, and maintain high performance.
So if you’re a leader looking for ways to support wellbeing and achieve high performance in your team, here are our top tips from this year’s Tour de France:
- Make sure everyone in the team knows their role and communicate regularly and clearly – Every rider in the Tour knew their role in their team, the game plan for the day, and who they were there to support. They knew their strengths. They knew what to do and when to do it. They were prepared to step up when other teammates were tired, and to step back to allow other stronger teammates to go ahead. A slight flick of the elbow by the leader was the cue to signal ‘I’m tired, I need to drop back and let someone else step up’. It’s subtle but everyone knows what it means. As a leader, ask yourself ‘Do we know our individual and collective strengths, are we clear on how we’ll achieve our goals, and do we clearly signal when we need support?’
- Once you have a plan, focus on the process not the outcome – Elite performers play their best game and let the result take care of itself. They understand that setbacks are part of any complex process and it’s how they respond and re-set that counts. Sport psychologist Dr Stan Beecham captures it perfectly: ‘Most people’s definition of success is the avoidance of failure. People who are really successful will tell you their definition of success is their response to failure.’ When crashes occurred in the Tour de France, it was striking to see the measured manner of so many of the cyclists as they pulled themselves up, checked themselves and their bikes for problems, called for help if they needed it, and set off again. Whether a cyclist had won the stage or not, most reflected on how the day had been managed and how the team had worked together. As a leader, how can you encourage your teams to play their best game each day?
- Pace yourself – We might not be tackling mountain stages like the Tour de France riders, but we often face steep climbs, twists and turns, and unexpected events in our working lives. Focusing on preparation and planning, and then pacing yourself, is key to maintaining high performance over the long term. Have frequent breaks. When work does become intense and you’ve finally achieved an important deadline or milestone, ensure that adrenaline rush doesn’t keep you pushing ahead without stopping to pause and reflect.
- Play fairly and ethically – On one of the last days of the Tour de France, race leader Jonas Vingegaard waited for his rival Pogačar after he crashed on a tricky descent. One tweet captured it all ‘Parents, this is a prime example of true sportsmanship. Show this to your kid … Fair play. Pure class.’ Ethical leaders are successful leaders. This isn’t just our opinion, research backs this up.
- Spend time focused on recovery – For elite athletes, recovery is an essential part of maintaining high performance. American Tour de France rider Neilson Powless lists his top recovery tips as rest (especially sleep), nutrition, catching up with family, cutting down on caffeine, minimising screen time and mentally switching off. At work, the culture is often to move quickly from one deliverable to another, without pause, not realising that recovery time is critical if we want to maintain peak performance. Think about how you can focus on dedicated recovery time when you’ve hit a key milestone or deliverable. And as leaders, we can set a powerful example by role modelling this to others and taking time out when we need it.
‘The 2022 Tour de France started on 1 July and ended on 24 July. The Tour de France Femmes started on 24 July and will finish on 31 July.’
Dr Lisa Mayocchi has over 20 years’ experience in the UK and Australia, helping to improve leadership, culture, resilience, wellbeing and engagement in sectors including health, education, justice, and financial regulation. With a Doctorate in Organisational Psychology, Lisa has published on stress and coping, mental health, career transitions, transferable skills, and the experience of high-performance athletes.