Lessons in Leadership

In this expert guide to leadership, MTa’s Founder Martin Thompson uses the example of the highly successful professional cycling team, Team Sky and their General Manager, Sir David Brailsford to highlight 7 lessons of leadership.

Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012, Mark Cavendish was first across the line in Paris the same year, but David Brailsford, their Team Manager made it all happen.
The Tour de France, the biggest annual sporting event in the world (the Olympics and Football World Cup only come round once every four years) has never been big in Britain: we don’t do cycling like the Europeans, so what happened in 2012?

Leadership takes on many guises: there is no single formula for success, but leadership is where Brailsford comes in and there is a lot we can learn from him.
About 3 years prior Dave Brailsford had a dream, a dream so far beyond most people’s comprehension, that few took it seriously, i.e. that at Brit should win the Tour de France within 5 years.

Lesson 1: Set stretching but achievable targets

David Brailsford’s success with the Great Britain cycling team, as the Performance Director, at the Beijing Olympics gave him credibility, and on the back of that he was able to persuade sponsors (Sky) and top British cyclists (particularly Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome) to commit to his vision.

Lesson 2: Identify key people who can help you achieve your vision

…and gain their personal commitment to you and your vision. The Tour de France has one overall winner but no-one can win the race on their own. A team is required to protect their best rider by sheltering them from the wind, keeping them away from crashes in the peloton and making sure they have enough to eat and drink throughout the race. Brailsford had to gather together a whole team of cyclists, each of whom could one day possibly win the event by working together as a team.

Lesson 3: Recruit people who will put team success ahead of individual success

The Tour de France (TdF) is an endurance race of many stages each offering different individual and team challenges. The eventual winner needs to be supported through each of these stages so that they are always in the best position to score maximum points over their competitors. Team Sky spent most of the previous 12 months together, building and cementing their knowledge of and commitment to their team.

Lesson 4: Build a team of skilled professionals who can bring the best out of each other: i.e. understand and play to all personal qualities.

In the TdF, there are numerous opportunities for individuals to win other sub-contests. Identify the individuals who, if things go according to plan, could win these sub-contests, but not at the expense of the prime goal, or know that the team will support personal goals in the future. For example Mark Cavendish was promised that if he supported Bradley Wiggins during the TdF then Bradley and the rest of Team Sky would support Cavendish in the Olympic road race later that same year.

Lesson 5: Find ways to reward all team members providing the rewards motivate all.

The TdF pushes human and machine to the limits. Brailsford strove for a myriad of tiny improvements in every aspect of performance of human, cycle and support.

Lesson 6: When added together hundreds of tiny changes can have a huge impact on performance.

The leader must provide the vision but also ensure that no stone is left unturned or detail ignored. Brailsford focussed on his team: his role was to meet his team’s needs, not impress the world with his skill, knowledge or ability.

Lesson 7: Understand your priorities as a leader.

Your success comes through your team. Celebrate their success with them: when they achieve you will be rewarded through them.

Dave Brailsford: congratulations, a leadership task well done, so far!

If you would like to know more about how to become a good leader or find out about MTa activities you can use to develop leaders, then please get in touch!