The Tour De France is on its way, and will be starting from London this year, bringing the colour and excitement of professional cycling to Britain. Lance Armstrong won’t win the race, he won’t be riding in it. Last year’s winner and others who would have been considered favourites for this years Tour won’t be riding either, so it could be an exciting race.
Many organisations have star employees, and larger than life, powerful characters heading up the whole businesses, key teams and divisions. These characters dominate and provide success, as well as generating a positive buzz around their area of the organisation.
Yet what happens in the background? In some organisations we find that there’s very little supporting the individual, they may be carrying large responsibilities and targets without a team ready to take their share. In others we find a group of incredibly talented, dedicated individuals who make things work in the background, allowing one charismatic individual to take a leadership position in the ‘public’ eye, whilst each taking leadership responsibilities in their own area of expertise.
In Significant Other, the story of Victor Hugo Pena highlights the unique position of domestique in the invincible 2003 USPS cycling team. In order for Lance Armstrong to win the Tour, eight of the most highly skilled, fittest professional sports people in the world must put their own ambition to one side and do everything they can to hand him that victory.
This isn’t about choosing a team of also-rans to make up the numbers, each domestique will be expected to fulfill specific roles, from the mundane to the more visible such as chasing down rivals, leading out sprints or pacing a team leader up a tough climb. The less glamourous end of the business sees them fetching water or standing by the roadside after having handed their bike to a team leader after a crash.
Significant Other highlights the need in organisations for leadership at all levels. Domestiques may work for their team leader, but they have a clear view of their role in the tactics of the race and ensure that their objectives are met to make a victory possible.
It’s worth thinking about whether leadership in your organisation is about one individual pulling people along, or whether through taking a leadership role of their own, followers are creating the conditions necessary for success.
Whilst cycling purists may prefer to have read the thoughts of José Luis Rubiera during the 2003 tour, this book may just start you thinking about your star performers and quiet leaders.