I love the concept of “drafting”. My husband Tim has done multiple long-distance bike rides and ever since I learned about drafting I’ve been fascinated by it. To draft, there has to be someone leading – you cannot draft alone. The riders following the leader of the pack use the leader’s energy to cut the air that they would normally have to move through themselves. This makes their lives considerably easier, reducing the energy it takes to travel by about 30%. I understand that the larger the group, and the closer they are to the leader, the more energy that is saved (some estimates say that 40% is not uncommon). Drafting makes it possible for the entire group to travel at a faster average speed. And the cool part is that when the leader gets tired, they get to move back into the pack to recover while another rider moves up to take their place. The rotation never stops. There’s always a fresh leader that keeps the pack moving in the right direction.
I think this is true for all great leaders, in cycling and otherwise – they’re the ones who are using their energy to make easier for the people following to perform at a higher level collectively. But in order for the “drafting effect” to take place, a number of things have to be going on:
1. The leader has to be vulnerable Holy smokes! If you watch how closely the riders are following their leader in order to draft, it’s frightening! Someone could really get hurt out there! But if they don’t let them get close, the effect doesn’t work – no one benefits. To lead in a way that causes your followers to get close enough to draft, leaders must get comfortable being vulnerable. You gotta let people get close. If you’re not on a bike, that means getting real enough that the people behind you will want to follow closely.
2. The leader has to be confident You gotta whole lot of people traveling at high speeds right on your heels! One false move and… BAM! The whole pack goes down! It takes something to take the lead – and be vulnerable. You’ve got to do everything you can to set yourself up for success physically, mentally and emotionally. Train like crazy – never stop. Believe in yourself. Expect greatness from yourself. And surround yourself with people who are also striving to bring their best to their game.
Oh, and just to clarify, there’s a difference between “confidence” and “cockiness”. When you look up “confidence” in the dictionary you see: “reliance, faith, belief, trust”. When you look up “cockiness” you see: “overconfidence, vanity, arrogance, conceit, egotism, brashness, presumptuousness”. Enough said?
Confidence isn’t an all or nothing thing. It’s something you have to cultivate. Continually. You want to be out in front? You have to earn it. And you have to be doing the work to fully believe you’ve earned it.
3. The leader has to know their limits We seem to think leaders should be super human and never need a break – but that’s phooey! Everyone gets fatigued and needs to re-energize. The thing is, you’ve got to be able to recognize when you need a break before you take the whole pack down with you. If you keep pushing and pushing and pushing, you’re either going to drop or you’re going to turn into such a jerk that no one wants to follow you. Know your limits. Build your bench-strength so you can give others a turn at the helm. And when you move back into the rotation, do something that truly energizes you so you can bring your best when you’re back in front. Or you won’t have a “best” to bring.
Drafting is a phenomenon we can all take advantage of – whether we’re leaders in an organization or not. If we’re working on getting real so others will follow closely, on continually growing our confidence to take the lead, and being aware of our limits so others can have a turn out front and we can stay energized to bring our best, then we’re creating an environment where we can all collectively benefit.
Are you in? Let’s draft!
©OnStage Leadership, 2013
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