Leadership Lessons From RAGBRAI – Part II

I gleaned so many leadership lessons from my experience at RAGBRAI in Iowa last month.  If you missed Part I, you can click the link to read it here.  In this post, I will share two more observations from my bicycling adventure!

Traverse leadership in teams.

We are amateur cyclists.  In fact all four of us (my two brothers, our friend, and myself) bought our road bikes about 5 weeks before RAGBRAI.  Our muscles, lungs, and coordination were no where close to where they needed to be.   In the morning when all the riders got on the roads which were blocked to cars by state troopers, we rode next to hundreds of riders at any given time.  As a day went by, as faster riders went ahead, and the riders spread out on the expanse of the road, the congestion thinned out.   In either case experienced riders rode in teams in a more seamless fashion, rode faster, and seemed to be having a lot of fun.

leadership lessons from RAGBRAI

That was not us!  These teams were like a finely tuned and synchronized dance.  Most were about 8 to 12 people, riding two by two behind each other.  The front two set the pace and the rest kept up, pedaling consistently.  Pedaling with purpose and resolve.  It was as if they drew energy from each other.  They seemed focused and on target.  Many of them had one member of the team with a music boom box either attached to their bicycle or dragged behind it and powered by solar panels or large batteries.

These groups always zoomed by while the rest of us struggled.  I am sure it was not their first time fighting through it together.   I am sure they practiced often as a team.

I have led as part of a team, and I have led alone.  It is very similar to the cycling teams of RAGBRAI.   Leading with a leadership team is so much more powerful, effective and simply fun.  It took practice, planning, and traveling together often.  But when it counted, we performed in a seamless manner, faster and more focused than the others around us who were watching us in dismay and wonder.

As leaders sometimes we forget the power of having a coherent team with us.  We start thinking too highly of ourselves.  We start wanting to go it alone, and only occasionally go with others.

And sometimes it’s because there is no one available.  Sometimes it’s because we have not been intentional to truly be together – not just coexist.  Other times we did not move together, next to each other.  We forget that a symphony can only be produced by a group of people in agreement and in harmony.

Friend, the success of your leadership will depend upon the people you bring along.  Will this be your ever nagging quest to always maintain a powerful team?

Keep pedaling, leadership will get easier.

RAGBRAI:  Day 1 –  We were not sure we could make it – 53 miles.  The maximum I had biked in one day was 40 miles.   It was hot too.   Sore and stumbling, we made it.  But all four of us wondered about the second day.  It would be the longest day of the ride – 83 miles!  Could we do it?  And what about our sore legs?

RAGBRAI:  Day 2 –  It hurt when we sat on the seat in the morning.  Our quadriceps burned!  Oh and by the way, the second day we would climb hills that total 4000 feet.   We thought if we could finish the second day, we could finish the entire week.   After all the third day it was mostly flat land.

And I don’t know how, but at 7:30pm we made it.   Ten minutes after we made it, a howling storm that lasted about 30 minutes hit our campground.  Luckily the group that was carrying our tents had already put our tents up, so we quickly got in our small yellow tents and suddenly…hail!   As my brother’s tent and clothes somehow became fully soaked during the mayhem, we decided to stay at a local hotel in the little town we were in.  Since they were completely booked, they let us sleep in their banquet room – with 15 other people.  But we were thankful, until we discovered that two guys were heavy snorers.

It had been one heck of a day, and a night that was not restful.   When the next day came, I did not know how we would do it.

RAGBRAI:  Day 3 – As we got on the bike the that morning, I expected to be unable to do it.  But to my surprise, after the first few miles my muscles were feeling great, my breathing was great, and overall I was feeling good.  The flat land helped.  I was also shocked on the third day to find a pleasant breeze.  I had been through so much, so many hills, so many miles the previous evening.  I thought it must have been that I was simply getting stronger.  Getting better.  And I was.

The secret though…I kept pedaling.  I stuck with it, even in the darkest hour, the worst hill, the severest storm.  Even though I had to be intentional the rest of the days of the ride, it became doable and at least mentally I knew I could conquer it.

As a leader, it is so hard when we become discouraged.  When people leave us, when we don’t find the right team, when the culture is failing, or the vision is unclear.  When the boss is not understanding and the closest people to us will not go along.  It is easy to give up.

But I say keep pushing.  Keep fighting.  Keep advancing.

Yes friend, keep pedaling!  Your muscles will get stronger and your confidence will get greater.  Your leadership will become better and your impact will become deeper.

In Part III, I will conclude with the final leadership lesson in this series from RAGBRAI.

Your friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

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3 Comments
  • Misty Gilbert
    Posted at 18:28h, 08 August Reply

    I have enjoyed you sharing your nuggets and takeaways from the Ragbrai Event. The lessons we can learn from everyday experiences in life are tremendous when we focus on these analogies that help us remember what is important and what we are here to achieve. Too many times we consider what is easy, natural, don’t dig into what is difficult and will grow us. We have to keep pushing, keep fighting, keep advancing if we don’t want to lose the race!

    Thanks for your continued encouragement!

  • Lupe Gonzalez
    Posted at 20:26h, 08 August Reply

    Dr W in a way I understand what you are saying. Recently I started taking Te Kwon do classes with your brother-in-law Waddell, the first few classes I was like saying am I out of shape! I still continue to go, my daughter & I that is and believe it or not I can feel the difference in the classes and here at work. I was always taught ” If you fall, get back up clean yourself and keep on going” Can’t wait for the next post.

    Lupe G.

    • Wes Saade
      Posted at 16:02h, 09 August Reply

      Lupe, thank you for the comment! I am very glad you are sticking with the Te Kwon do. I hear that you are really well!!! I totally agree, we have to always get up and try again…

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