Blazing Saddles and Leaders You Want to Follow

You might notice lessons on leadership in the strangest places.

Sometimes right out on the open road.

These can be some of the best lessons to take back to the office.

Last weekend, I rode in the Blazing Saddles Century Ride. Organized by a local bike club (thanks North Shore Cyclists!), the routes covered some great roads in Northeastern Massachusetts.

Cyclists call it a “century ride” when the distance is 100 miles. Organized rides like this typically also offer alternative routes too, such as the “half century” (50 miles) or the “metric century” (62 miles / 100 Kilometers … that’s the one I did).

So the rides are for semi-serious riders who have set one of these distances as a goal. Still, you get a mix.

Some riders are fit. Some less so. Some go fast. Others a bit slower. Some are experienced. Others are new.

What is interesting to watch is how things “settle out” over the early miles and how leaders emerge from the pack.

Not leaders like going the fastest leaders. Leaders like those who you want to follow.

You might know that cycling in groups has some benefits. If you are riding right behind someone, you can “draft” them. They are piercing through the air and you are following in their wake. That saves you a lot of energy (up to 30%!).

You may have noticed this if you saw some of the Olympic cycling races.

The thing is, this can be a bit tricky. While it’s nice to get the benefit of drafting, it means that you are taking on more risk.

You have almost no time to react to anything the rider in front of you does. That means you are going to have to trust them quite a bit.

You are not just going to follow anyone. That’s dangerous.

It’s during that “settling out” period that you can suss out the leaders that you are comfortable following.

Who earns your trust?

Well, you probably want to follow the leader who is smooth and predictable. You will avoid the riders that are jerking left or right, or the ones who are slowing and speeding constantly.

You would likely want to follow the leader who is anticipating turns and hazards. Riders that are confused about what’s coming up are probably not going to instill a lot of confidence.

You might want to follow the leader who is communicating clearly with signals and words. Even a rider who is confident and in control is of limited value if they aren’t sharing a lot of information about what’s going on.

And, you definitely want to follow the leader who is looking out for you and the rest of the group. You are not going to get much benefit from following someone who is only looking out for themselves.

We’re way down here in this post and we haven’t even talked about fitness, skills, and experience yet. That’s because none of that matters if the leader can’t earn your trust.

You need to trust the leader to do all sorts of good things and to not do stupid things that could create problems for you (and others).

Because you know if you can find this, that you will reach your goal faster.

You will have the most enjoyment. You will be inspired to help where you can. And to become a better leader yourself.

Are you the type of leader that people want to follow?

Are people willing to trust you? Or are they still hanging back and observing, afraid to get too close?