Leadership Lessons From RAGBRAI – Part I
For those of you who followed me on Facebook last week, you may have seen some of the photos of me, my two brothers, and our friend Nick participating in RAGBRAI: a 7-day (50 to 80 mile per day) bike ride across Iowa from the west to east state lines. I learned a lot about navigating the rolling hills of Iowa – as well as navigating leadership…
New to cycling, my legs were constantly sore! As I slowly progressed, I watched with keen interest over 15,000 strong riders, mostly 25 to 45 in age. Some were children as young as 10 and a handful were in their 70’s! One person was on a unicycle and another brought her dog along. As we stopped at every small farm town, it was phenomenal to experience the local culture and foods and meet the local Iowans that farm this beautiful state.
As I negotiated the Iowa hills among the beautiful cornfields, I had plenty of time to think. Several of the experiences and scenes reminded me of different aspects of leadership. I also listened to several leadership seminars on my iPhone which helped spur my thinking.
I want to share those with you in this three-part series from RAGBRAI.
Navigating the rolling hills of leadership.
There are three types of terrain: flat land, downhill and uphill. The flat lands were predictable, manageable, and for the most part easy to pedal across. Downhills were a different story. Suddenly, I was an instant success! I mastered it quickly. And as I coasted down I had a chance to relax and enjoy the winds blowing on my face, sometimes up to 37 miles per hour. Usually after a downhill came the uphills and that’s where most cyclists struggle – I was certainly no exception.
After the first few days, I figured out a secret to manage uphills better. I found out that if during the downhill I remained super-focused, I expected the uphill to come. I would then maximize my speed, and as I hit the uphill keep pedaling and downshifting systematically. I got through 70% of most hills on the momentum of the downhill. And the rest was a piece of cake!
As I think back on my experiences navigating leadership, there were definitely flat lands when things were smooth and straightforward, downhills where things were going my way and I started gaining speed. And then came the uphills – the times where things slowed down. To move forward I had to work hard, struggle, and fight just to stay in the game.
When we are traversing the landscape of leadership, this is normal. I first expected Iowa to be flat – at least I hoped it would be. Likewise, I thought navigating leadership would be easy. Once I discovered and expected hills – both in Iowa and in leadership – I started doing better. At least emotionally, I handled the uphills better – not only because I prepared during the downhills, but also because I expected the uphills to come. All of the sudden, I was okay with it. It just became part of the process for me.
And as I engaged the next hill, a part of me wished the entire ride would be flat lands or downhills. But then, I reminded myself that this is the ride I signed up for. That’s why most people don’t succeed at it, because they are not willing to continually negotiate the recurring hills of Iowa – or leadership! I wanted that final prize. I wanted to participate in the tradition of dipping my front tire in the Mississippi River on the last day. I want the prize of going with great people to great places to accomplish great things.
Friend, the hills of leadership will not go away. You may get better, as you should. But are you willing to live a life of conquering the hills of leadership?
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