In cycling, there is a phrase known as “taking the wheel”. The phrase refers to taking the lead in a pack that is drafting. The leader creates an aerodynamic “bubble” that allows others to take advantage of the slip stream and conserve energy. In fact, the work of the leader and the pack that follows allows the entire group to ride faster and conserve energy!
As leaders, there are things we can learn from this cycling analogy in our own work with educators on our campuses or in our districts. We are always trying to develop our team and encourage them to achieve goals and improve the work of the team members, individually and collectively. Knowing the most effective actions a leader can take in steering the process of collaborative improvement is critical. Let’s take a look at some of the principles of “taking the wheel” that can help us as leaders:
- If you’re the stronger rider, take the wheel!
In cycling if you’re a strong rider you are expected to take the lead for the group and help pull everyone else towards the goal.
As a leader on your campus or in your district, you’re staff is expecting you to take the lead and help to pull them towards the goal and to encourage them to push on even when they are tired and ready to stop. Leaders aren’t afraid of challenging headwinds and they refuse to allow excuses to rise up and prevent the team from charging towards the intended goals.
- Be a mindful leader!
The leader who takes the wheel is allowing the riders who follow to recover by riding in aerodynamic slipstream that forms behind the leader. The bubble can actually extend to 7 or 8 riders behind the leader. This can prove helpful for the pack in keeping them fresh and together but the leader has to remember to watch the pace of the ride and the terrain ahead. If riders aren’t prepared they can easily be dropped from the pack and might not be able to catch up to the pack once left behind.
As a leader on your campus or in your district, you too need to be a mindful leader. You have to monitor if or when your followers need a rest and when the pace of work needs to be adjusted. You have to be watching the terrain ahead and prepare your followers for what is coming. The goal for the leader is to not “drop” anyone along the way. The best leaders help their team set attainable goals with clear markers along the way. They know that progress can be its on motivator and they ensure that the whole team experiences that progress.
- Know when to lead and know when to follow!
In cycling, if you tend to follow too often and are reluctant to do any work in leading out you’ll be labeled lazy and considered a “follower”. In cycling terminology, a competent rider never wants to be labeled a follower. On the flip side, jumping out to the lead too often or for too long can lead some to be seen as the hero for sacrificing themselves for the good of the team. They can also be seen as a sort of donkey with no brains for failing to use their efforts more wisely.
As a leader on your campus or in your district, it’s imperative that you understand your team and your organization well enough so you can lead when you need to but follow when necessary as well. Understanding that giving others on the team who have better or different skill sets than others a chance to lead is important if the team is going to improve and getter better at what they do. As a leader, if you’re always out front you will get burned out and your effectiveness will diminish as other team members crave a chance to lead or grow tired of looking at the same back side. By developing other leaders who can take the wheel for your team, you develop capacity in your team and relieve yourself from being the only one who breaks new ground.
- Equipment can make all the difference!
I can remember when I started riding as part of my training for a spring triathlon. I used my hybrid “get around” bike and it often times seemed like I was pedaling a bike with cement tires. Once I finally invested in a true road bike, not only did my times improve but riding was actually enjoyable!
As a leader on your campus or in your district, do you have the right equipment? Do your team members have the right equipment? If your organization is going to meet the goals set before them, they will be more likely to
do so if they have access to the right kind of data along with coaching in how to use the data and time in which to do the work it takes to improve instruction. How about professional development? Equipment makes a difference but the skill and competence of the rider has to improve to get the most out of the equipment. It works the same way with our teachers. Leaders have to develop the skills, talents, and understandings of their staff in order to maximize the benefits of having the right tools.