Thoughts from a South Carolina Business Owner, Leadership from the Bike Seat

Anja Smith

Friday, December 9th, 2016

Ten days is a lot of time to spend with three other people. Especially when riding from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. along crushed limestone and gravel with 20 pounds of supplies strapped to your back. You learn about yourself and the others around you.

I didn’t approach my 350-mile bike trip with the goal of learning leadership lessons. I just wanted a cool experience and a bit of adventure. Lucky for me, I got all of the above and more.

I certainly don’t consider myself the leader of our group. Not by a longshot. It’s just that I observed things about myself and about team dynamics that everyday life couldn’t exemplify in the same way.

1. Lead with the Back of the Pack in Mind

Just like in my business, I surrounded myself with “A players” on this trip. So when I say ‘back of the pack’ don’t picture the weakest link because over ten days and hundreds of miles, we all took turns at the back of the pack. But with no cell phone coverage and sometimes twenty, thirty, or fifty miles to the nearest hospital, bike mechanic, or authority figure - you have to have each other’s back.

The person in the lead at any given time had to be aware of how far back the rest of the group was; be sensitive to when others might need a break and be sure of where the next meetup point was located. If not, we would could have gotten separated, hurt, or suffered a severe mechanical malfunction.

Similarly, in life and in business, we have to be sensitive to those we are leading. The entire team is stronger if the person out in front has this awareness. A flat tire isn’t a big deal unless the person with the tire pump is ten miles ahead of you and oblivious. Being an exceptional leader means being in tune with your team and making sure no one gets left behind.

2. Steady Progress Over Sprints

I have an erratic pedaling cadence. It is especially pronounced when I’m tired. I get antsy to get done with the day and I want to push harder to just be able to stop for a little while! But then I burn out, because, well, it was a 350-mile trip.  The ladies who kept a consistent, comfortable, steady pace felt far better at the end of the day than I did. We got to our destinations in the same amount of time, but they did it with far less pain and suffering than I.

This is a good lesson for leaders, who tend to be impatient. We want results yesterday and we want to rush the process. What a ridiculous concept on a trip that was literally about enjoying the journey. Life is also a journey, and we should be willing to enjoy it.

3. We All Have Weakness, And They’ll Come Out

One member of our group suffers from some knee issues. For the two and half days that we rode a constant (literally) uphill grade, she was suffering. That happened in the first half of the trip, so she was the first to have moments of doubt and frustration.

One particularly brutal afternoon, she tried to apologize because she felt like the weakest link. The rest of us were having none of it. We could help shoulder some of her weight during this portion of the trip because we knew ours were coming. We all have weaknesses. Some may show themselves quicker than others. Hard is subjective. Hard is different for everyone. We all have a breaking point. Be nice.

4. Forward Is the Only Way

We had four bikes, eight legs, camping gear and a map. The car was 350 miles away and there was only one way to get there. That kind of clear finish line is rare in life. But the lesson that the only way out was forward rang like crystal.

We were rained on. We had mechanical issues. We had gear issues. It wasn’t always the adventure we wanted. Sometimes, we were all ready to be done. But, that is different than wanting to quit. I don’t think any of us ever considered quitting. Because the car - and home - were forward. What if we treated every goal in life that way? That the only possibility was forward? That’s a powerful thought to consider.

If you ever have the opportunity to take on an adventure like this, do it. It doesn’t have to be a ten day bike-packing trip. No judgement if that isn’t your thing. But whatever your great adventure looks like, whatever idea scares and excites you in equal measure, do it. Plan for it, think it through, then move forward knowing that there is only one way home. You’ll be amazed by what you learn, how you grow, and the friendships you’ll make along the way.

Anja Smith is the managing partner of All Clear Plumbing, which primarily serves Greenville and Anderson counties. All Clear Plumbing focuses on plumbing repairs and sewer and drain cleaning for both residential and commercial clients.  The company uses only trained and experienced plumbers on a job. Learn more at www.allclearplumbingupstate.com.