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Jan's corner: business lessons from the Tour de France

As I write, the 2010 Tour de France is drawing to an end and I can’t help but see parallels between succeeding in this seminal cycling race and business.

Contrary to popular belief, cycling is far from an individual sport: certainly, to win the Tour de France requires individual talent. But history is filled with highly talented riders who never wore the yellow (race leader) jersey, or the green or dotted shirts either.

Tour de France team

Competitive cycling is about teamwork and playing to your strengths

An individual, no matter how strong, cannot make it over a 3,000 kilometre-long race alone. Technical, logistical, tactical and moral assistance from a well-organised and resourced team is key for cycling success just as small details and a few seconds, here or there, can decide the race winner.

These days, every racing team in the Tour has professional riders, mechanics, medical staff and dieticians, support cars with radios and the most advanced bikes. Just like in business, equipment and technology has become standard.

What did I notice that makes the most difference? Compatibility and collaboration of the people involved on the road and behind the scenes. They set and execute the race strategy (based on their team’s unique strengths) and make sure they quickly adapt their tactics when things change.

In difficult terrain (often climbing on narrow roads in high mountains) and in the face of severe and changing conditions (scorchingly hot sun and cold rain), along with fierce competition for the ultimate prize, even stars like Lance Armstrong depend on others. Without proper and timely support, they can lose a stage, or the whole race, regardless of their talent.

In the Tour, like in business, talent and strength can win a stage, but clear strategy and dependable teamwork are what wins a high placing in the overall standings.

It might sound obvious, but consider how interlinked you are. Who do you depend on to give your best performance day in, day out? Whose success depends on you? Are you geared up to win your race? Do you know the strengths, and weaknesses, of your team-mates? Performance in Le Tour is like performance in business: apparently ‘soft’ skills, like self-knowledge, trust and teamwork, turn out to be intrinsically linked to success.

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