Organizational Effectiveness: Crossing the Finish Line Together

I get very excited each year at the beginning of July because it is the start of the Tour de France, a month long event. There are some great lessons we can pull from these wheeled warriors into the business world.

Thanks to VCR, then DVD and now DVR and the web, I’ve hardly missed a televised stage of the Tour de France since I first saw American Greg LeMond win in 1989 by eight seconds after a month and 2,000 miles of racing. One year before web access on phones, I foolishly scheduled a family vacation during the Tour, and a friend was kind enough to call every 15 minutes with updates during the final day of the race as we drove to Lake Powell. I can still hear him screaming on the last call, “ … Ullrich’s down! Ullrich fell! Lance is going to win!”

The Tour de France is one of the most grueling sporting events in the world. If you’re a fan, you also know that it’s full of strategy, tactics, drama, danger, heroics and superhuman efforts. Those who don’t follow the sport find it hard to believe that modern day bike racing in these Grand Tours is also very much about the team. The big dogs such as Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and many before them may make all the headlines (too often because of doping allegations), but without their domestiques (support riders), they wouldn’t prevail.

In the team time trial event, nine riders from each team race against the clock. This event requires evenly matched teammates and superb technique. The clock stops when the fifth rider, not the first, crosses the line so there’s no advantage for the team leader to sprint for glory. Only by working together — in this case riding 30 to 40 miles an hour one inch from their mate’s wheel — can the team win so the individual star might also win.

Business also has strategy, tactics, drama, danger, heroics and superhuman efforts. In business history, the heroic leader (for example, Lee Iacocca, Al Dunlap and Steve Jobs) often claimed credit and received all the accolades for success, in a few cases deservedly so.

However, my experience is that the way to lead, and the best way to succeed, is by getting the entire team across the goal line at the same time. Leading from way out front might assuage the egos of CEOs who see themselves as superstars, but it rarely works.

You might be brilliant, but the need to get the team across the line requires communication skills that match or exceed your intellect and brilliant ideas. Four brilliant executives won’t get the “fifth rider” across the line unless they’re coordinated and focused on the team.

Making sure you have the right people on your team so they can keep up is also critical. In the Tour de France, only five of the nine teammates must cross the line to get a valid time. However, the remaining members must finish in a reasonable period or they’re thrown out of the race. As harsh as it may seem, this must also be done in a highly performing business.

Are five out of nine of your teammates getting to the finish line together? Are the others close behind or replaced with more talented teammates?


Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of, Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be(Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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