July is my favorite month. For 23 days, each morning and every evening I indulge myself in one of my greatest passions, watching the Tour de France.
If you see me or talk to me during this time, you will see the glint in my eye and hear the high pitch of excitement in my voice when I speak of it. With only a few rare exceptions, my delight is greeted with blank stares. A few ask, “What's the big deal about this one sporting event?”
I understand it is hard to catch on if you didn’t grow up in a country that follows the sport. Fortunately, I was introduced to it many years ago when on vacation with a family of sports fanatics. It took three days of watching before I began to understand the complexity of the race and once I did, I was hooked.
The more I learned about the race, the more I realized why I loved it so. To be successful in this event, you have to be a great strategist, a brilliant tactician and the best in the world at what you do. These are also the requirements of winning in business. Each year, stage after stage I see correlations between the competitors in the race and the issues I see our clients facing. Watching the Tour can teach all of us a great deal about how to win, especially how to strengthen your strategic thinking skills.
Here are just a few common themes between the Tour de France and running a successful business.
- Both a team and an individual sport. To be competitive in the Tour de France – to have a chance at winning – you have to build a fantastic team with each team member as strong as the next. There are specific roles for each team member, and all must be individually the best for the team to win. Sound familiar? Every high performing team I have been a part of has had the same mindset. Each team member is focused on his or her performance as a commitment to the high performance of the team as a whole. In modern times, the winner of the Tour de France (the yellow jersey) is the leader of the best team. The yellow jersey gets all the attention and is celebrated for winning, but they only have the strength to beat the other team leaders because they have a strong team working on their behalf.
- Five races in one. Each day (stage) of the Tour de France, there are four individual rider competitions (yellow, green, white and polka dot jerseys) and then the team competition. At any given stage, the course favors one or two of these competitions. So, even though the event is a race of 21 stages, each stage is a separate race with a different set of terrain and a different set of competitive pressures. If you are in management or a leadership position, you can relate to this. To achieve your goals, you must look to “win” on multiple levels at any given time. Market conditions, dynamic competitive pressures and the speed of change all conspire to create new realities that you must consider and possibly respond to frequently. To prevail, you need to keep a close eye on the conditions (market responsiveness) as well as your strategy (vision driven).
- The ultimate test of perseverance. In witnessing the 21 days of pretty much continual racing (there are two rest days after each week of racing) you see the physical toll such a sporting event takes on the competitors. What may be less visible is the mental and emotional toll. To compete at a high level, let alone finish the race, you have to persevere physically, mentally and emotionally as an individual and together as a team. You have to believe in your strategy, and you have to be prepared to discard it, responding tactically the moment ideal conditions change. Team management has to manage the needs of their athletes as well as their equipment, sponsors, and media, all while packing up and moving to a new hotel at the start of each day. I dare say, none of us deal with this level of intensity daily, but it is an exemplar of the focus and commitment we must have to persevere in today’s highly changing market conditions.
- Many hours of a stage are relatively uneventful, so the race coverage includes reporting on teams, their capabilities, and their leadership. It gives you a sense of how professionals prepare to compete, and there are lessons in it for all of us.
Want to learn more about this fantastic event? Watch my free webinar, and I will introduce you to the basics of the race so you too can watch to strengthen your strategic thinking skills.