10 business lessons from Mountain Bike riding

I absolutely love getting out on some flowing single track. I’m not the best or the fastest mountain biker, but that feeling of freedom and powering around a berm is pure joy. I’m also passionate about learning and growth.  Over the years, as I’ve been riding I’ve noticed a number of similarities in the lessons from mountain bike riding and leadership.  Whether that’s being a leader in a company or as an entrepreneur.

Mountain bike riding is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and for me it’s about the connection with nature, the combination of the mental & physical challenge and being in flow.  It’s also about the feeling of being a kid again, escaping from home for a while and riding through the bush with a few friends.  These are the 10 Mountain Bike riding Leadership lessons which have regularly shown up and inspired me.

  1. Preparation is key – you don’t want to be THAT guy – the one that is never ready on time, when everyone else is ready to go! My wife used to laugh when the day before a ride with some friends, I clean the bike, lube the chain, check the tyres, wheel my aluminium friend into the house… however I’m setting myself up to be on time, prepared, everything in order and ready for the morning ride. Preparing for a meeting, presentation, webinar, pitch is just the same. How do you create the space for your preparation and success? Will a checklist or a system help? How can you make it as easy as possible for your repeated success?  Remember it’s the little things that make the difference!
  2. Get in Flow! – My most creative, problem solving, sparks of clarity happen when I’m in flow! On a trail I regularly stop to record an idea on my phone. The solution to a problem I might have taken hours to ponder sitting at my desk, can emerge whilst riding along a trail or up a hill! Being in flow is that state of effortless direction, those activities where you instinctively know what to do next and are energised on completion.  Activities where you’ve had moments of subconscious excellence and thought, “How did I do that?”  I also return from rides with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm for problems. I believe ideas when in Flow are also your best.  I know I’m also in flow when in front of a white board with a client mapping out a solution to a problem or having an inspired energy conversation. Your moments of flow might be something completely different.  The aim? Know when you’re in flow and create more opportunities for it.  Next time you have a problem, a challenge, need a spark, don’t sit there and wrestle with it! Get up and get in flow!
  3. Change gears before you need to – I took a friend mountain bike riding for the first time the other day and he was amazed at how often he changed gears. He also learnt pretty quickly you need to get into the right gear before you need to.  If you leave it too late, you lose momentum, it puts strain on the gears and makes it harder to get over the obstacle or hill.  So often in business we are living in the past and changing up gears too late, after the problem or obstacle has happened.  What are your leading KPIs telling you? What are the trends telling you? A change in one gear has a huge impact in the ease of pedaling and getting up that hill.  If there was one big change to improve things you would of already implemented it.  What small change can you make in response to what you’re seeing to move your business forward?
  4. What comes down must go up – They don’t call it mountain bike riding for nothing! Enjoy the up hills, embrace the tough yards, the challenges, the learnings – you need to go up to enjoy the ride down the other side!
  5. Breathe – Remember to breathe when you’re riding downhill. I was holding my breath regularly on down hills.  It could have been the excitement, fear, stupidity, maybe even the poor skills.  Either way, it didn’t set me up for the next hill.  I didn’t have the oxygen to keep going. When things are going well, we often don’t pause, reflect and implement improvements.  We might be enjoying the ride so much we forget, we might be going so fast, growing in revenue or might be just hanging on for dear life!  When things are going well, pause, acknowledge the reasons why, learn from them and lock them in, so they are sustainable.
  6. What you focus on is what you get – There’s this rocky section that probably still has some of my blood on it. Not so long ago I headed out for a late afternoon ride at the local trail.  As I left, I thought about the rock (which was 10 km away), as I climbed the back trail, I thought of the rock, as I enjoyed the top section I thought of the rock again, as I headed down the rocky trail I looked at that rock that I wanted to avoid squarely in his cold eyes as I whispered I won’t hit you today.  Bashing my elbow on the rock as I hit it wasn’t the worst thing.  Changing the punctured tire, with a throbbing, bleeding arm was.  I’m a big believer in what you focus on is what you get.  Are you focussing on the rocks & obstacles or the path ahead, through them?  Critical to XC MTB riding is picking your line through the technical sections and riding with momentum.  Leaders need to communicate the vision and create a purpose driven culture, where individual’s purpose are aligned with the organisation mission.  Can you answer, where are we going, how are we going to get there, do we know the challenges and what are we focussing on?
  7. Know your strengths & limitations – Get coaching from experts – get advice from mentors, know your strengths and limitations. My riding improved significantly from a few coaching sessions (thanks Jared, Scott & Alex), being open to new ways and applying them. There is a power in asking for help, collaborating and giving others the chance to share their strengths.
  8. Have fun – Life should be fun. Work should be fun.  Riding a bike is fun.  People are more productive, happier and more engaged when having fun.  Enjoy the ride and have fun along the way.  This fantastic video explains the impact of stress and why you should enjoy the ride.
  9. Get out in nature – The value of getting out in nature to reduce your stress, be more energised and creative is intuitive and has been well documented, check out these resources. My dose of nature on the bike leaves me feeling refreshed, focused and grounded.  How often are you getting out in nature?  Get out amongst the trees, the forest, in the park, feel the dirt between your toes – be inspired and get creative.  How about scheduling a meeting in a park or having a walk in nature to start the day?  This video provides some fun inspiration to get out in nature too!
  10. Riding and business is better with friends – mountain bike riding is a solo sport. You’re really only competing against yourself, bettering your own time and getting smoother on the trails. Yet it’s better and more fun with friends (Thanks Col, Matt, Jason, Nathan & Ross!)  Better with people who encourage, support and celebrate your milestones when you achieve them!  If you are the “Average of 5 people you hang out with the most” as Jim Rohn says, who do you ride with and who are you collaborating with?  Do they inspire or tire you?

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