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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Want to be a Great Leader? Get On Yer Bike and Learn from the Master!


There was an excellent little programme on BBC Radio 4 last week featuring a 15 minute profile of David Brailsdord, the Performance Director of Team GB Cycling.

The results of British cycling at London 2012 speak for themselves; twelve medals including eight gold and two each silver and bronze.

All of this came after Team GB at the Beijing games in 2008 were also very successful to the extent that the cycling powers that be seemed to think that British cycling was becoming too successful and changed the rules for London.  Fat lot of good that did!

Quietly, in the background, David Brailsford was working to make British cycling the best in the world by any measure in which he has been remarkably successful and contuse to be so.

So what has this to do with business?  Leadership is a common theme in these blogs and listening to the broadcast, it became evident that David Brailsford has all the hallmarks of the great leader.

It was said of him that “He doesn’t lead from the front and he doesn’t lead from behind;  he leads from the centre” which implies that he is very involved with everything that makes the team so effective.

You will notice that the word is TEAM and that is a vital component of his management style.  The team has been together, living, training, working and competing for the four years between the games, and it was fascinating to hear team members say constantly “we are a family”.

He believes in a ferocious application of the “aggregation of marginal gains”, mentioned by all his team whenever they were interviewed, and obviously one of the major factors of his leadership philosophy.  The Japanese call it kai-zen, or incremental improvement, however small.

He is hugely supportive of his team, extremely demanding, sometimes tyrannical and always looking to the next challenge.  Indeed he is now preparing for Rio 2016.  He was called ruthless; I prefer to suggest that he makes decisions quickly and without sentiment or emotion to the greater good of his team.

Add to all this the fact that he took a few weeks off to run Team Sky in the Tour de France which was won by Bradley Wiggins with Chris Froome coming second; the first ever success by British riders in more than 100 years of the Tour.

His management style is not for everyone; suffice it to say that we can all learn something from people like David Brailsford. 

Incidentally, have you noticed that the teams which were very successful, cycling, rowing, boxing, all used the same method of the athletes living and working together, while other teams, less effective, didn’t?

As a sporting postscript, I have blogged extensively about “terrorists” in business; extremely high performers with a bad attitude.  It is so difficult for the leader to deal with them; anxious not to lose their performance contribution but vastly concerned about the corrosive effect of their behaviour.

There is only one answer, of course, and that is to dispense with their services to the greater good of the team.  The general response from the team is usually “what took you so long?”
Ever heard of Kevin Pietersen?

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