Have 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.