Five business lessons from Bradley Wiggins

Bradley Wiggins is the first Britain to win the Tour de France and the most-decorated Brit following his performance in this year's Olympics. Here are five lessons business leaders can learn from 'the Mod' of cycling.

by Vicki Bennett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Think like a winner

Wiggins’s revolutionary tactic in cycling training was to race less often but to always race to win. His team got used to leading a race rather than chasing the lead. Perhaps one of the most powerful elements in his 2012 success is the idea that Wiggins and his team already felt like winners. This is linked in to the idea that visualising things can help to lead up to their creation.

When someone begins to think differently they begin to feel differently and, in turn, this can change their actions: they can become a different person. Adopting the 'as if' theory to business may encourage a world of fresh possibilities. As Henry Ford said ‘If you believe you can or you believe you can’t you’re probably right’.

Never stop learning from your mistakes

Wiggins’s training programme drew inspiration from the sport of swimming (working at top intensity from the start vs. a steady build), which completely changed the way he and his team trained. That said, he also learned from his past mistakes, and made sure to pace the start of a time trial to leave enough power in his legs to finish.

Many may find reviewing their own failures a painful process but, as Wiggins has shown, it is crucial in order to progress towards goals. In Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the hero has to learn from each of the tasks and ordeals presented, or he is forced repeat the lesson over and over. The art for the business leader therefore is to be able to identify and learn from past experiences in order to achieve their goals.

Working with and for others

Leadership is rarely just a solo act. Wiggins’s path to his 2012 success has seen him perform as a member and leader of a team as well as a solo competitor.  In the Tour he was lead in the team and is seen as the winner but he would be first to say it was a team effort.  He worked in close unison with the rest of the team, leading out the ‘Sky Train’ to set up Mark Cavendish to win the last (most prestigious) stage.

In the Olympic men’s race, victory escaped them in the end but it was Mark Cavendish who was in the frame for the win; Bradley was (in effect) a stage pace leader in service of Cavendish’s gold medal aims. Of course Wiggins’ solo effort in the individual time trial did lead to Olympic gold. 

Wiggins’ ability to work with and for others demonstrates that sometimes leadership can be best played out by working in the service of others. Successful business leaders know the importance of empowering their team, with each member sharing objectives and working collectively in pursuit of a common goal.

Plan but be flexible

Wiggins raced five times in the lead up to the Tour de France. Each race was a mini-goal in his overall strategy; first to win the Tour and then the Olympic time trial. Although Wiggins felt at his peak at the start of the Tour, he had accounted for every possible scenario (from crashing out to winning). 

If you have a clear sense of the direction you are heading in and what you are trying to achieve in each year, month, week, day, each moment, you are far more likely to be effective in your work and personal life. Keeping on track means both dedication to the programme and flexibility in the face of a changing landscape.

Success is as much about aligning and planning as it is about knowing when to be flexible and agile enough to meet new market demands as the external environment shifts. Robert Fritz (Corporate Tides, 1994) reckons that the hallmark of a leader is their ability first to articulate a desired state whilst remaining closely in touch with the current state (how things are right now) and second to sustain this tension without letting go of either vision or reality, until it can be turned into effective change.

Keep it real

On returning home to Chorley, Wiggins commented that he felt overwhelmed and that one of his first tasks was to take his son to a rugby camp in Wigan. This British sporting hero is first and foremost a dad and a husband who recognises the importance of this team’s effort in his success. Described as a ‘nice guy’ by fellow competitors, Wiggins is authentic in his approach to life and his sport.  Leaders are often held as role models in their organisations so need to act with integrity and authenticity in pursuing their business goals.

Vicki Bennett is a partner at change consultancy Sheppard Moscow

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