Lessons from the Tour de France

Posted July 23, 2012 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

It may seem strange that I’m writing about the Tour de France. After all, there are no women in this race, and frankly, I know little about cycling. But my husband is a Tour de France enthusiast, and we’ve spent a lot of time these past two weeks watching the legs of this race. I began knowing nothing about cycling, and ended knowing very little – but as I lacked understanding, I spent a lot of time Googling. And while I don’t think I know more about cycling than I did before, necessarily, I did learn some lessons from the Tour de France that are actually applicable in leadership and careers for everyone.

  • Leave the start line knowing there are multiple ways to win. This was truly my favorite thing about the Tour de France. Sure, there’s the yellow shirt guy. He’s the overall winner. But there are many, many ways to be a winner in the Tour de France. There’s the “King of the Mountains” and each individual who wins each day’s ride, and these individuals are not always the same as the leading yellow shirt winner. The same can be said in business. It might seem like “winning” means getting to the top of your field, the top of your company, etc. But the truth of the matter is, there are hundreds of ways to win in your career – winning with your title is just one. Winning with your values, winning with your impact and influence, winning with your commitment to excellence. All of these wins are important and worthy of celebration.
  • Play to your strengths. In the Tour de France, there are riders who win a day who have no hope of winning the race – perhaps they win the mountain stage or the time trial stage, but not the full race. These riders know their strengths. They know where they excel more than anyone else, and they are willing to sacrifice being the “top dog” in order to win these days and feel good about it. You, too, should know and play to your strengths in business. I, for instance, know that compassion is not a great strength of mine. It’s why I’ve shied away from jobs that include managing large groups of people. I know I’m better in a project leader role to get things done and keep people accountable.
  • Sometimes your job is to support the winner. While watching Chris Froome support Bradley Wiggins in the yellow shirt for so many days, I couldn’t help but feel sad for him. Wasn’t he just as strong as Wiggins? Why couldn’t he be the winner. It’s the Gretchen Weiners speech from Mean Girls.

    “Why should Caesar get to stomp around like a giant while the rest of us try not to get smushed under his big feet? What’s so great about Caesar? Brutus is just as cute as Caesar. Okay, Brutus is just as smart as Caesar. People totally like Brutus just as much as they like Caesar. And when did it become okay for one person to be the boss of everybody? Because that’s not what Rome is about! We should totally just stab Caesar!

    But the truth is, sometimes you might be just as good as the leader, and you have to play the game. That’s what Chris Froome did. He supported the yellow jersey rider and gave Bradley Wiggins the win. Why? Because they were fighting for their team, and for Wiggins to be the first British man to win this race. That dedication to team and country became more important than personal glory. Again, multiple ways to win.

I hope you all take away a few lessons from these incredible athletes. They ruled the roads in France, and I think they know a bit about leadership we can all learn from.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."