Team Sky, perhaps the most dominant team in all of cycling, came into 2018’s Tour de France on the strength of its undisputed leader, four-time winner Chris Froome. Froome was the heavy favorite to win yet again, but about halfway through the three-week pedaling marathon, it became clear that his teammate Geraint Thomas was much better positioned to lead the team to victory.
When a leader emerges within a cycling team, other riders on that team can fall into an effective supporting role, continuing to push their leader while helping to keep competitors at bay. Thomas had previously played this role four times, each in support of Froome’s ride to victory.
Not this time.
It was time for a role reversal.
Froome, one of the greatest stage (or lead) riders of all time, switched positions to be the one in a supporting role. Don’t cry for Froome, by the way. He still took the third position on the podium.
It’s inspiring to see firsts in sports, and Thomas is the first Welshman to win the Tour de France. But it’s the quieter things in the background that are often more inspiring than the firsts. They’re the impressions that last.
Such a quiet moment occurred here. Thomas’s rise to the spotlight from the shadows of a supporting role is not unprecedented among biking teams, but how it transpired certainly is.
When role-playing riders emerge into the lead, the usual suspect leader-teammates don’t just exhibit strain in their calves trying to keep up. You also see it in their forced “I’m happy to play a supporting role” comments and reactions.
It was a Talladega Nights moment for the sport, like when Will Ferrell’s character Ricky Bobby finally decided to slingshot his race car running mate Cal Naughton (John C. Reilly) into the winner’s circle for once. Shake-n-Bake for the cycling world.
ESPN reported that, incredibly, there was no tension at all between Froome and Thomas. And Froome couldn’t fake the visible happiness he showed for his longtime supporting cast teammate.
That’s what remarkable leaders do.
The best leaders know when it’s time to take a back seat and let others enjoy the glory of victory. They support from behind with the same vigor they must at times visibly show from the front. Their appreciation of those who support them in their endeavors is deep and authentic and they are skilled at showing it in ways that make it all about the other.
As a leader, you simply must relish putting others in the spotlight and be skilled in providing that support. It’s not enough to just wish good things for your employees, you have to roll up your sleeves or dig in and pedal up those steep hills to keep pushing them to success and removing obstacles along the way.
It takes hard work to shine the spotlight on others. But when you’re the soil, not the sun, you have the biggest impact on the growth of others. While you must shine in your own right at times, the majority of your approach should be providing the supportive, nurturing environment to help others grow,
To be the soil, not the sun.
In the spirit of that, let’s put the spotlight back on Thomas and his incredible accomplishment. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride? Not anymore. A perfect marriage among teammates was just the little extra push he needed to fully emerge in his own right.
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This article by Scott Mautz also appeared on Inc.com. To read more Inc. articles by Scott Mautz, click here.