Fatigued? Learn to Draft

September 7, 2009 — 4 Comments

Drafting PacelineHave you felt the burn of fatigue? It’s difficult to define but easy to feel. It’s when you can’t run another step, or lift another weight, or swim another lap. The muscles have filled with lactic acid and you’re done for the day.

How about leadership fatigue? In a similar way, it’s when you just can’t gear up for another meeting, or have another hard conversation, or work through another planning agenda. For me, leadership fatigue stems from constantly monitoring my genuine concern for people’s well-being while navigating the continuous stream of challenges and crises which threaten the group’s ability to make forward progress. Paul the apostle captured the feeling this way: “I’ve been beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger in the city and the wilderness, but what really wears me out is the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:25-28, paraphrased).

Learn to draft. Recently I’ve renewed a lifelong passion for road cycling. On clear mornings after a decent night’s sleep, I really enjoy heading out for a crisp 25-mile ride. If I’m alone I’ve got to work hard 100% of the time. I can average about 18-19 mph on a windless day. If the wind rises it just wears me out. When I ride with one of my cycling buddies, we rotate the lead every mile or so, sharing the load of breaking the wind for one another. Together we can average about 20-21 mph for the same distance. When I return home, I’m not nearly as tired.

This summer I discovered a cycling club that rides a non-stop 40-mile loop around East Orlando on Saturday mornings. Last weekend I joined about 50 people in the B-group. Together we cranked comfortably for nearly two hours, averaging over 22 mph and hitting some 2-mile sprints of 30 mph. We accomplished this because the front 6-8 riders pulled our group forward in a paceline. A paceline is an informal arrangement in which the front rider pushes his or her limits for a brief period (usually only a mile or so), then drops off to the side, allowing the next rider to break the wind for the group. The rest of the peloton usually follows in two columns behind the leaders. With this approach, everyone can ride up to 30% faster and longer than anyone could ride alone. I return home thinking “hey, let’s do another 20 miles!”

We lead better when we create a paceline environment of shared leadership on our teams. There is less overall fatigue. People feel healthier and are eager to pull their fair share. Some will even push beyond their known limits to serve the team. Next time you’re feeling the burn, try sharing the lead and drafting behind some of your teammates.

4 responses to Fatigued? Learn to Draft

  1. Ken – good analogy. Here’s a follow up thought: in a 40-mile ride around Orlando, you signed up with the B-team since you knew your limits – no offense, but not sure how the A-teamers would feel having you around…is he going to help? hurt?! :-). Throw me in the B-team, I’m useless to the group as I belong on the “freshman squad”! I think that is a critical part of the peloton (segmentation based on objectives, skills, and physical abilities).

    In a ministry, how is the A team vs. B team applied? Is that realistic since we welcome all? In business, there is the A-team (executive leadership who may or may not be true A-team), middle management, and “doers”. How is this applied? Most worker bees don’t get to pick whether they are leading A-team or B-team or whether they are following a leader worth “drafting.”

    In NASCAR or bike riding, drafting works because of aerodynamics, physics, and driving/riding skills. “Sharing the load” is a good start for application. Would be great to get your thoughts on how to “draft” in a ministry or job environment

  2. ken love the cycling analogy! excited you’re part of a group ride; that’s been challenging for me here in Chico, even though it’s a huge cycling town.

    the piece of this that i talked about with our student interns here at Chico State is the strengths portion (similar vein to Walter’s comments).

    it’s not just sharing the load, but realizing who is best at being in the front. my pride and self-sufficiency often pushes me to stay in front when it’s clear i need to peel off and let someone else take the front.

    thanks for the post!

  3. Hannah and Walter, thanks for raising a really practical question, namely: How do you “draft” in a ministry or job environment?

    One role of a servant leader is to reduce the friction a team experiences in pursuit of objectives. Often this friction is a result of the external environment. Yet, as I have witnessed in my own leadership, too frequently my own limitations blind me from noticing how my actions (or inaction) have begun slowing down the team. This is natural. I shouldn’t lead all the time just because I carry a title. I need to look at who has the gifts, energy and current positioning necessary to move the team a little further down the road.

    Brian has captured the heart of the issue: the humility of the leader. I need humility to know when pride, ego, self-sufficiency or competitiveness blind me from realizing that everyone can go faster if I just peel off and let someone else pull for awhile.

  4. I’m going to make my staff and student leaders memorize “One role of a servant leader is to reduce the friction a team experiences in pursuit of objectives. Often this friction is a result of the external environment.”

    The power in that statement for me comes when I think about taking some friction in an area that is not one of my strengths for a time so that someone under me can grow in a specific area of need. It’s definitely a loss for me in the short run, but an exponential gain for both in the long run.

    As Michael Scott once said “Win, Win, Win” 🙂

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