I am drawn to watching the Tour de France every year and I’m already looking forward to the event starting this weekend. There is just something about watching people test their physical limits every day in such a beautiful yet challenging environment.
I have learned a little about the dynamics of a cycling team and it’s quite fascinating. There is typically one cyclist who has the best chance of winning and the others are there to support that rider in their quest.
The riders who are doing the supporting are called the “domestique.” Domestique translates literally in French to “servant.”
Throughout the race, the domestique are performing a variety of functions. During long stretches of the race they are out in front of their leader, as it’s easier to pedal when someone else is cutting through the wind ahead of you. The amount of energy saved by drafting behind another cyclist is somewhere between 30 and 40 percent.
The domestique will surround their leader in the “peloton” or the primary pack of riders to keep their main rider out of any trouble or big crashes.
The domestique are also tasked with falling back to the team vehicle to pick up food and water for the rest of the team. They do this so the others remain strong and do not spend the energy needed to catch back up to the peloton.
In most cases, the domestique are there knowing they have no chance of winning.
As organizational leaders, we may find ourselves thinking we are the rider designated for the victory. I know I certainly have.
But what if we consistently embraced some of the characteristics of the “domestique.” Perhaps we would be more inclined to:
Sacrifice. Do we make things easier or harder for our people? Are we cutting through the wind of bureaucracy, red tape, and politics or are we staying behind the pack to let our teams take the brunt of it? Are we the ones creating the red tape for our own comfort? Domestiques remove resistance, not create it.
Protect. Does everyone on your team feel empowered to make decisions and express themselves without reservation? Are we creating team environments built on trust and respect? Do people feel comfortable being themselves? Domestiques provide security.
Nourish. Are we freely willing to leave our own ambitions aside and expend energy to ensure our teams remain strong and ready for the challenges ahead? Are we spending time to provide meaningful encouragement and coaching every day? Domestiques ensure strength.
It’s not easy being a domestique and certainly not glamorous. But there is reward in the silent knowing of the part you played in people enjoying coming to work again and succeeding in ways they never thought possible.