CEO Coaching: How to Deal With Bumps in the Road

There’s a crazy, one-day, annual bike race in France called Paris–Roubaix, which starts in Paris and ends in … oh, you guess! It’s 160 or so miles of hell. Although relatively flat, much of it is on a narrow, muddy cobblestone path. It’s like trying to ride on marbles on ice. The announcers constantly yell “OOOOOHHHHH!” as yet another rider slips and hits the deck hard with other riders piling up on top of them. Tires are punctured and bikes are broken at an alarming rate.

To win Paris–Roubaix requires not only endurance and strength but also crazy-good bike handling skills, thick skin and grit. Not just ordinary grit — grit like broken glass.

The parallels between racing Paris–Roubaix and running a business probably aren’t lost on those of you who’ve been in the leader’s chair during a troubling period. Most people would get off their bike and look for a local pub.

One nuance that always strikes me is how one rider safely navigates a tough 50-yard section when others are on their back in a heartbeat. Some of it is luck, but you’ll notice that successful riders have velocity, a relaxed grip, and a focus down the road. Not ingenuity, not nuance, just grit and speed with moderate control. If you’re too slow, an individual cobblestone throws you over the bike before you can blink. 

I was asked to provide feedback to a former client who’s looking at public board seats. Although he has many great attributes, his ability to get through those tough 50 yards when required differentiates him from others. 

Although you must start with a purpose, vision, strategy and plan, sometimes you just need to blow through the cobblestones! Much of that is mental toughness, but you also need the right team and tools. 

Most leaders encounter 50 yards of cobblestone at some point — in some cases, frequently. Are you ready?