Leadership and teamwork – learn from Geraint Thomas and Team Sky.

Cyclist Geraint Thomas’ victory in the 2018 Tour de France provided a number performance insights.

In this podcast, Tougher Minds Founder Dr. Jon Finn explains how these can benefit individuals and teams, and apply to work and everyday life.

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    Podcast transcript

    This is the Tougher Minds podcast and this episode, Tougher Minds founder and managing director, Dr Jon Finn talks about the 2018 tour de France. It was won by Team Sky rider Gareth Thomas, and Jon explains how the Welsh cyclist’s victory provides performance insights which can be applied to work and everyday life to benefit both individuals and teams.

    I think Geraint Thomas and Team Sky showed a real team, a real powerful team in what they achieved. It was all about Chris froome in the lead up to this race, and then Geraint Thomas emerged as a leader and the guy who eventually went on to win on. There are a number of things we know that after happen for a team or a culture to be successful. The first thing is that everyone has to feel safe, because if you don’t feel safe in a team, you can’t come into work and practice really hard every day. Those in Team Sky clearly do. People feel safe in the team. Secondly, it needs to be okay in the team to put your hand up and say, you know what, I’m not excellent in this area, or you know what? I’ve got a challenge with this area and do something that we call share vulnerabilities or another term we have is when everybody has psychological safety and Chris Froome could have gone on and persisted for longer than was helpful and it could have cost the team the victory, where as he was clearly…

    Persisted in trying to win the race himself?? Yes,

    Saying, I’m okay, but knowing that it wasn’t so clearly, it’s okay to say that in the team and the third thing you need in a successful culture is, is a clear purpose and clearly the team has that and those three things combined, I think help to secure the result that they got. It wasn’t about appearing strong and having to win the interaction individually, it was about what’s best for the team. Let’s work together and let’s win together. And I think for people who are not – I’m not into cycling and I just watched the Tour de France when it’s on, once a year – the insight from the people who really are in cycling will be different in the sense of cycling community. Really getting that. This is about the team. This is a team activity. Outwardly, it looks like it’s an individual activity. It’s not, and the only way that Team Sky can perform so well is if they’re before as a team.

    Yeah. It’s perhaps worth pointing out actually, just on that specific point, in other sports, and we’re obviously are considering a sport as an example here. Perhaps in football, anybody can score a goal, maybe not the goalkeeper, we he can score a goal, but is perhaps received the received wisdom as he should stay in his nets. But in cycling there’s this very deliberate and stated hierarchy where some riders have that to help the leader through. I think it’s aerodynamics by writing in front of him to make his pedaling easier and others are designated as leaders and and hence put forward by their team to be the successful one to win the race. And that had to change and that took a lot of collective leadership skills by everyone concerned.

    Yes. And I think the point is, you know, leadership is not just a title, it’s about behavior, it’s more about behavior then your title and actually everyone in any team, he’s a leader because what they do impacts and everybody else’s behavior. So clearly Team Sky have something working really well though. Even for David Brailsford to be able to be so malleable and rearranging a team to be able to, you still go into it and after what was a huge setback, there’s definitely something to be learned from them.

    And he would have had the task of, of saying to people, we want you now to do this, you now to do that. And so there was a re-setting of everyone’s responsibilities individually, but I suppose the important thing was to connect it back to the overall team objective.

    Yes, exactly. So it’s about what’s the purpose here guys? What are we here to achieve and how do we need to re-jig individual roles and responsibilities to help us to achieve the goal, you know, and they’re ruthless in that area. Um, I was chatting to a “David Brailsford equivalent” of an American team and this was a few months before the Tour de France and he was making the point about the results that the Team Sky half the disposal some money. This is a dinner conversation. Someone at dinner said it’s a bit like the New York Yankees. And the guy said, actually, no, because these guys actually win, actually we’ve got the results, but they, when they perform. Yeah. So there’s something very interesting going on there in terms of being able to create the safety there share the vulnerabilities would also work towards the goals.

    Okay. So I understand then that another of the very specific lessons we can take from the whole progress of Team Sky and Geraint Thomas relates to, to resilience. So to tell us more about that, if you will

    Yeah. So we hear this term a lot. The way I would understand it is that resilience is about recognizing the thinking about this thing or doing this thing isn’t helpful for me right now, so I need to redirect my attention of my energies onto thinking about something else or doing something else and we see the physical and the psychological challenges off the Tour de France. And Geraint Thomas, was talking about how he was controlling his attention as he was riding, talking very specifically about you never thought about the outcomes. It was always about the process, doing all the small things, right? Thinking about the next climb, the next year in planning and staying calm and collected. This is about recognizing what is helpful to pay attention to and when he fell, his attention was maybe drifting any refocused back onto the process. That’s the heart of what resilience is and these guys are clearly already good at it. In a similar example, Bradley Wiggins, just after he broke the mile time record last correct in a BBC interview into a say, you know, when it gets really difficult, what do you think about. And he said, well, not how difficult it is. And how painful it is, I think about getting over the finish line and how great it’s going to feel when I get over the finish line to this is a deliberate act of refocusing attention. So yeah, I think we can learn a lot about resilience and attentional control from these guys. We live in a world where people are feeling more overwhelmed than ever before. Our experience of the world is driven by what we pay attention to. So says William James, who was seen as a founding father of psychology. I’ve refine the slightly, I’d say our experience of the world is what we are in the habit of paying attention to. So if we want to be healthy, we want to be happy. We want to be at our best more often, we have to get in the habit of paying attention to things that are helpful for us. Because if you’re suffering from a mental health challenge, you’re in the habit of paying attention to a lot of unhelpful things. The good news is you can rebuild and rewire the habit, unless you still a, a glimpse from the Tour de France guys about the power of being able to do that.

    So yeah, I suppose if we were looking to transfer their successful approach to building resilience into, into the work context would perhaps, and we had a challenging project that seemed to stretch out before, rather ominously in an intimidating way, we might focus on, on the progress we’ve made each week in, in a, in a group setting or something like that.

    Yes. Or maybe, well, I’d say regularly. So daily, at the end of every day, you might write down three things are going well, it could be connected to the project or not. One thing you could improve tomorrow. And that’s one of the strategies we use in our business programs. By doing that, you’re building a different thinking habit. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the project, the things you’re paying attention to, probably all the things that are not going well. And many of those things will outside of your control. So in order to build a habit, we have to practice something on a daily basis.

    Now the final lesson we’re going to talk about that we can take from, from Geraint Thomas and Team Sky’s Tour de France success in, in the summer of 2018 and was their attention to their, their sleep. It’s a component of, of health. I’m sure many people would realize that perhaps not realizing how important, but nevertheless, um, sleep is something Team Sky have almost developed a reputation for, for focusing on, in, in explicit detail. Tell it, tell us more about that, Jon, if you would.

    Yeah. So I think Team Sky, probably GB cycling were the first group in the UK to publicly be talking about having purposeful sleep improvement strategies. We know this isn’t new, but I think they were ahead of the field in terms of putting these publicly out. We know that at the Man City training, for example now they’ve just built some dominant trees by the players, couldn’t sleep even at Leeds United. The manager wants that to be in place because when we sleep, um, there, uh, a few things happening. One is we organize all the things we’ve been practicing and paying attention to that day. So if you’re trying to develop skills, um, sleep is absolutely essential and we’ve seen data from a sport setting where the guys who sleep the most progress the fastest in terms of their skills. Another function of sleep is that it helps you to clear out all the nasty chemicals in your brain that helps you to deal with stress better.

    So that you’re fresh again and ready to go. Again, another function of sleep is it improves your ability to deploy self-control and almost butial willpower levels is helpful on putting the brakes on the unhelpful old habits that you might try and be replacing with helpful, more helpful than new habits. So it’s absolutely essential. We know that our generation gets about one hour less sleep per night than our grandparents generation. Um, so that’s the equivalent of Warner Nights, less sleep per week. So about four and a half nights per month. And it goes on. A science is very clear if you don’t sleep properly, it kills your brain, doesn’t work properly, and in the era of mental health, um, or an Arrow with mental health problems that seem to be bigger than ever before, there is a relationship, I’m sure between them, the quality and volume of sleep people are getting this emerging. So it’s really important. Um, and I think the point to make here is with all these examples of very famous people is, you know, you don’t have to sleep like a, an Olympic cyclist. And interestingly, Laura Trott’s, the female, um, multiple gold medal winner on the GB cycling program was talking about she used to prioritize getting 10 hours sleep a night before she had a baby.

    In fact, she, in fact she is Laura Kenny now, isn’t she? Laura? Kenny with them having married dislike as Jason Kenney. But yeah. Sorry, carry on. Yeah. And we can’t all do that.

    Well, what we can do is recognize the amount of sleep we currently get. Compare it to the ideal sleep. It’s gonna work well for us, which will be a unique number for you because you are unique and then slowly but surely move from our current habit up to our ideal habit that might just be trying to get an extra five minutes per night and try and do that over a week and I’m building up to 10 minutes, but just taking these small little steps is how we can change ourselves. If we try to replicate the behavior of these elite athletes will probably fail very quickly and lose our confidence that we’re able to change anything. We can change what we need to do it in small steps.


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