Today is the official start of the 74th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a marquee event for Harley enthusiasts that my husband and I have ventured to twice. Although we’re not going this year, the excitement is still palpable as we’ve watched thousands of bikers riding through Colorado en route to South Dakota over the past week. It’s prompted me to think about the wisdom I’ve collected from riding, not the least of which is in the realm of leadership.
I believe riding has made me a better leader…and it’s not just because people generally think it's cool to see a 5'5" 125-pound woman commandeering a 750-pound Heritage Softail. Here are three of many leadership truisms accentuated based on experiences I’ve had on my Harley:
1. Keep your focus on where you want to go. On a bike, if you watch the ditch, you’ll end up there. If you want to avoid an object on the road, the surest way to hit it is to stare at it instead of ahead of it, to a spot of safety. In order to navigate a tight turn, a rider must keep her attention further down the road from the turn itself or get ready to drop the bike. In a corporate environment, it’s exceptionally easy to lose that important big picture focus, given all the proverbial potholes, obstacles, twists, and turns along the way. Effective leaders keep their eye on the prize, as they say.
2. Be clear and intentional in your communication. Smart riders utilize hand signals to communicate to fellow riders and cars on the road. (There is still no “app for that!”) In addition to the obvious ones we’re taught in riding 101, my husband and I have aligned on signals indicating everything from ‘I need to potty’ to ‘I need fuel’ to ‘hey, watch out for this debris or hazard that I’m seeing before you do.’ As an executive coach and talent management consultant, I encounter many performance issues and interpersonal challenges that could have been mitigated or avoided entirely with more effective, mutual communication.
3. Stretch yourself. I’ll admit, after learning on a much smaller bike, I was somewhat intimidated to upgrade to a big Harley. But I was confident in my riding skills and knew I had resources to support me. Now I am far more comfortable at faster speeds, get further on a tank of fuel, and have even more fun. As a leader, it takes a lot of courage and confidence to make tough decisions and take well-calculated risks, but often the risk of doing nothing or thinking too small is much greater.
Although Mark Twain didn’t live in the motorcycle era, his famous quote seems apropos: “…you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did so...Explore. Dream. Discover.” And to that already superb list, I’ll add: Focus. Communicate. Stretch.