13 Oct

What a cycling record taught me about leadership

[:en]When I decided to set a cycling record riding as the first woman the Vuelta a Espana, 80% of the people told me it was impossible. Not only the physical aspect of riding 3000km and 48000m elevation in 21 days but the whole logistical part of it as well: Finding sponsors, having a support vehicle, food, drinks, hotels, media coverage and the accreditation that I am actually allowed to that. I impossible couldn’t do it all myself. But where to get a team of volunteers that were as eager as me to put all the energy and passion into a project that might fail?

I discovered five crucial values that helped me to create a 10-person volunteer team that went above and beyond their tasks to make this project possible:

  1. Passion for the mission

The mission of the cycling record was not just about setting a record, it was about inspiring and empowering especially women to go for challenges and to try something outside their comfort zone. Every single person in my team felt identified with this mission, no matter what task they had. I was not looking for a media person, a driver, etc. I was looking for team member who wanted to help me create an impact. Everything else just followed.

  1. Be authentic and trust your team

I could have played the big girl that I can handle it all, a big project most people believed to be impossible. There were so many unknowns, so many things I have never done before.  Yes, I believed in the project and I was crazily passionate to be successful. But oh boy, there were moments of weakness and of doubts. But instead of pretending to have everything under control and to know it all, I made sure that my team knows how crucial each of them is and that I trust in their work.

  1. Strengths and creativity

People might have a formal training but there are always so many more capabilities in the person than just that particular training. Sometimes those are hobbies but more often than not, those are soft skills. And if the person can utilize their strengths beyond the typical tasks, then they feel empowered and even more motivated. The feeling of being able to contribute to something and to matter, is a key element for a happy and thriving team. But to know the strengths of each team member, the following point is as crucial.

  1. Genuine feedback

Understanding what each team member really thinks is crucial to be able to lead effectively. And that means to be genuine and open for feedback. In the first days of the Vuelta, I was way to controlling and stressed out. David, my right hand in this entire project, took me aside and gave me the necessary feedback to change my way of leading. Through his and other feedback I could improve as a leader but also help others so they can do their work better. It should be a two-way feedback loop instead of just top to bottom. But feedback is only valuable if it is heard and that action is taken accordingly.

  1. Appreciation

Working together 24/7 for 21 days, going through an entire emotional, logistical and physical rollercoaster, a whole lot of emotions emerged after the last stage in Madrid. Yes, I was incredibly happy but also sad because I knew that this was the conclusion of the team as the project has finished. Everyone was amazing. The spirit was high and without the team, this project never would have been successful. As an appreciation and celebration of this project, we had a dinner together and had so many stories to share during this time. What I mostly happy about was, that every single team member would love to join the next project if there was any. We shall see. 😉

There are many ways of leadership. For me, it means to be able to ignite the passion, strengths and motivations in others for a goal everyone believes in. And it does not matter how seemingly impossible it is because I truly believe that anything is possible if you are completely passionate and determined to achieve it.[:]