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Great leaders aren’t always in front

I have just completed a 500km bike ride to raise funds for Hands Across The Water as they support orphans in Thailand. There were 48 of us and in the end we raised about $300k which is a great achievement.

At the same time, however, I gained many things.

One was a great lesson on what it means to be a leader.

On days 1 and 2, if I wasn’t in the front pack, I wasn’t far behind. There were a couple of other riders that were at a similar level of fitness. There was a bit of rivalry but we were happy to just be doing our best. I’m no cycling nut, and so it felt great to be part of leading pack.

And that’s when my big lesson in leadership came crashing down on me.

It turns out that in the group of 48 that there were some cycling nuts. They could do the ride in their sleep. In fact, on day 4 one of them did do a mad break, and even the organisers couldn’t keep up with him. This guy was a biking legend.

There was a professional triathlete coach in the group.

There were riders from past years that nailed it.

But for the first 2 days I didn’t know this. 

For the first 2 days I didn’t see them. I didn’t know they existed. They weren’t up front.

They were hanging back…

…helping.

These were the people that were looking after the newer riders and the ones struggling to do the distance. They were the ones that were ensuring that as a group we were going the distance.

When the last person rode in to each rest point, there would be one of them riding in along side them.

By day 3 the results were obvious. There were riders telling stories of how the tips had transformed their riding. There were stories about how people were now powering through instead of giving up.

It all culminated on day 5 when we had our final big hill. This was a 5km non-stop incline. It just went on and on. It was a narrow road and we had to do it single file. In fact, we had to be sent up with gaps between us to ensure safety. 

We all made it.

The significance of this was only told to us afterwards. In all the years of the ride, no group had ever had the entire team make the hill. There was always at least one person opting out and sitting in the support van. 

But we all made it.

Because everyone believed that they could make it. Everyone felt capable. Everyone felt enabled. And everyone felt supported.

It’s not because of the leaders first across the line, but because of the leaders that were last across the line.

It’s because the truly great riders didn’t have something to prove, but something to offer.

During the ride, if you wanted to find the truly great leaders, you didn’t look in front, but alongside or behind.

Great leaders elevate the team, not themselves. 

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