BL&T No. 064: Motorcycling & Leadership (A Series)

Agency Leadership

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.

Borrowed, Learned, and Thought

For this week's edition of BL&T, I'm forgoing the usual format to introduce a series of posts I'll share this week, exploring leadership lessons learned from motorcycling. Here's the backstory.

During my time off last week, I was grateful to squeeze in a few rides on my motorcycle. The standard break-in period for tires is 100 miles, so it was exciting to see the odometer pass that mark last week.

One of my rides was yesterday, despite the frigid air. About 10 minutes in, the cold set in through my gloves, and I started questioning my choice. Yet, I rode on to the spot I arbitrarily pinned on the map so I would have a destination. Then, I turned around to come home. By the time I arrived, I couldn't feel my fingertips.

On the ride home, I squeezed the clutch and realized I could just about feel the handlebars in my hand. I thought - why am I out here? What made me get on the bike in 40-some degree weather with no real destination? Since immersing myself in the motorcycle world, I've noticed that this question is not new; it's a topic of many motorcycle podcasts and films.

Everyone has a story for why they ride, but from time to time, we still find ourselves asking the question, especially if things go wrong or our conditions are not ideal. But we keep doing it anyway. What keeps me getting back on the bike is a certain kind of meditation I find in the ride. According to a study by Randall Stutman, I'm not alone on this.

"Randall Stutman, who for decades has been the behind-the-scenes advisor for many of the biggest CEOs and leaders on Wall Street, once studied how several hundred senior executives of major corporations recharged in their downtime. The answers were things like sailing, long-distance cycling, listening quietly to classical music, scuba diving, riding motorcycles, and fly-fishing. All these activities, he noticed, had one thing in common: an absence of voices. These were people with busy, collaborative professions. People who made countless high-stakes decisions in the course of a day. But couple of hours without chatter, without other people in their ear, where they could simply think (or not think), they could recharge and find peace. They could be still—even if they were moving. They could finally hear, even if over the sounds of a roaring river or the music of Vivaldi." (Ryan Holiday, Stillness Is the Key)

When I'm on the bike, I'm nowhere else. Every part of me is present in the moment. Whatever is happening in my life momentarily falls away. It's about taking in my surroundings and safely arriving wherever I'm going. In some ways, it's like entering another space and time where I'm just a person on a machine. The uninterrupted focus and intensity is recharging.

After I shared the details of my brrrisk journey with my wife, Dana, I noticed parallels to my role at Barrel. Beyond cutting through the noise, perhaps there's an unsaid connection that Randall Stutman's study did not surface between these CEOs's favorite pastimes and the experience leading their teams. I wonder if these pastimes offered insights that helped these CEOs grow as leaders.

Whether I'm leading my team or on the bike, I know there may be surprises waiting at every turn, situations I'll need to be prepared to navigate. There's pain, and there's payoff. I can't guarantee anyone's watching me give me a pat on the back when I stumble or celebrate a win. It's on me to find the courage to keep going. It's on me to get better. It feels good to reach the destination, but the joy is really in the ride.

I thought it would be fun to explore this connection a bit further. With the cold setting in, it might be a few months until I'm back on the bike unless we get lucky with a warm day. This week, I'm going to start a mini-series of leadership lessons I've learned from riding. I plan to publish a few posts throughout the week, and perhaps I'll keep going as I discover more. For now, stay tuned for posts on my website this week, and lookout for a roundup in next week's newsletter.

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