Saturday, July 24, 2004

Learning from Lance - Part Deux

To continue what I started...  if it's not just about the technical skill, where does consistent success come from?

Assuming that Lance crosses the finish line tomorrow in the final stage ending along le Champs Elysées, (and he's careful enough about such things that there's no reason he shouldn't), it's practically assured that Lance will take home his sixth Yellow Jersey, an unprecedented accomplishment, all the more impressive because he will have done it all in consecutive years.

While Lance has improved the standing of the sport with the American public, his story is not the only impressive one out there. Jan Ullrich continues to be a formidable force to watch. I find myself curious about what role Andreas Klöden will play next year. Ivan Basso seems to be coming into his own. Tyler Hamilton continues to astound me even though he pulled out of this year's Tour... and even though Thomas Voeckler lost the white jersey today, who couldn't help but be impressed by his efforts and all that he accomplished, sometimes on nothing more than sheer guts and determination?

If you watched any of this year's Tour de France, you would have had an opportunity to see just how much the entire US Postal Team contributed to Lance's (and their own) success and there's a lot of good stuff there to mine for lessons about business and life itself. Here are some more of my attempts at connecting the dots...

  • Assemble a great team - This year, as in other years, there is more than one member of the US Postal team who is capable of being a star in his own right. These guys really know what they're doing and they focus all their attention and energies on helping Lance succeed.
  • Give your team something worthwhile to work for - One thing I keep hearing is that the work of a supporting cast member for a team like Lance's is rewarding enough to be playing second fiddle... and it must be true to have attracted top talent like they have. Team success, individual success when it is consistent with the team goal, a share of the financial rewards of success & recognition are all some of the possibilities I can think of that might be the motivators for these guys - someone has figured out what makes it worthwhile to the riders themselves because we've seen every stage of the Tour where they give nothing less than their best.
  • Instill confidence - One of the things that really amazed me throughout the tour was how much easier it must have been for the US Postal team to have devoted single-minded effort into supporting Lance, knowing that he was capable of doing what he set out to do... compared with how troubled the T-Mobile team had to have been with Ullrich struggling to stay in the running. Here we are on the eve of the final "just make sure you cross the finish line" stage, and Ullrich as team leader is more than two and a half minutes behind one of his own teammates. It's tough to know as an outsider and a non-competitive cyclist what the dynamics actually look like on that team right now but I have to guess that a willingness to support the leader and get the team where they collectively want to be has to suffer in a situation like that.
  • Work on the teamwork - A singleminded willingness to work for the good of the team doesn't by itself guarantee success. Lance and his team have clearly prepared heavily for the most foreseeable situations, developed a comprehensive plan and practiced their individual roles in the execution of that plan as much as they needed to until they were able to execute it nearly flawlessly. Every time Lance was led by and surrounded by his guys in blue, you saw it in action and it most definitely worked.
  • Control the pace - By making it their game instead of someone elses, Lance's team controlled the field and made it more likely their guy was going to be the one to come out on top
  • Be willing and able to do the hard work yourself - Lance has great support from his team and he could not possibly achieve the success that he does completely on his own, but he also knows there comes a time when he has to be the one out in front doing the heavy lifting and he has to do it alone.
  • Know who your real adversaries are - Along with the other A-list cyclists, Lance (mostly - okay, he's definitely not perfect) doesn't waste his time or energy chasing down riders who aren't in a position to affect his own standings or the success of his team.
  • Work with a great advisor - One of Lance's keys to success is that he has Johan Bruyneel, a coach who understands him completely and also understands the challenges he faces. Johan is a friend, a confident, a sounding board and an advisor who ensures Lance and the rest of his team are at the top of their form on race day. At least part of his top-notch performance comes from the outside perspectives Lance gets from Bruyneel.

That's probably more than enough for now though with input from others, I definitely have more to add to the list. If you'll send your ideas to I'll make room for those as well.

What's one thing you could do to improve your own chances of success?