The Art of Leadership and Riding a Bicycle

(AKA – Helping the Organization Get Where It Needs To Go!)

The Art of Leadership and Riding a Bicycle

Let’s demystify the art and practice of leadership. There are many parallels to the aspects of riding a bicycle and leading the team.

First of all, the purpose or usefulness of the bicycle is to get from point A to point B. Clearly, leadership is focused on forward movement toward a vision of a future desired state.

The bicycle has a framework or structure that allows it to transfer energy to serve a positive purpose. Leadership, truly is about energy management and how to focus the individual and collective energy on meaningful goals of the organization.

The Bicycle: A Metaphor for Leadership

The bicycle below has been labeled to indicate the essential elements of the practice of effective leadership, so let’s see how they create a meaningful, metaphorical framework for understanding leadership.

Leadership Bicycle

Starting with the bicycle seat, this is from where leadership operates, steering and empowering the organization.

The essential (orange) bicycle frame represents the structured communication paths that must exist to connect all parts of the organization. One hand must know what the other is doing.

The handlebars symbolizing strategy are what leaders firmly grasp to provide clear direction to the team. This direction must also be clearly and compellingly communicated to the rest of the organization for the organization to get where it wants to go.

The back tire represents the people of the organization – where traction occurs if it is to occur. The internal structure of the back wheel represents the various applications for direct coaching conversations to connect people and provide valuable information for change. Coaching can (and should) flow Up, Down, and Sideways – in all directions.

The pedals are connected by the chain to the sprocket of the back wheel, and represent the energy transference and action delivery to the system. If the pedals are functioning well (as operated by Leadership), they create accountability which leads directly to empowerment. The mechanism for transfer is the feedback chain. Without that – the organization goes nowhere. If power is effectively transferred through coaching to the people of the organization, then engagement occurs and forward momentum is created.

We see the tire on the front wheel of the bicycle represents our focus on customers. Clearly, setting our Course (Vision, Mission, Core Values, Key objectives, and GRRATE Expectations) must anticipate customer’s needs and serve them well.

So there you have it – the essential pieces of contemporary leadership clearly connected to the structure and functioning of a bicycle.

You Need It All:

There is no part of this bicycle that you could do without. If any of the operating parts were damaged or broken, you see the direct negative impact upon the whole organizational system. All of these pieces are mutually-interdependent upon one another for the proper functioning. With a well-oiled machine, and effective leadership with their you-know-what in the saddle, the organization moves forward toward desired strategic objectives.

It is obvious that the key role that coaching plays in the practice of leadership. We are fond of saying that “If you can’t coach, you can’t lead.” They are inextricably connected in philosophy and practice.


So, let’s use this diagnostically to see what the implications are for organizational functioning and performance.

  1. If Leadership is ineffective, nothing much happens. The stronger and more effective the leaders become, the “ride” for the organization is enhanced…more speed, safety, service to customers, etc. Everything gets better.
  2. If Strategy is unclear or unexciting, and no one is able or willing to follow it, game over. The organization will flounder and certainly NOT end up getting where it might have.
  3. If Communications (in general) are untimely, inaccurate, or muddled, the framework breaks down and chaos ensues. Good structured, high integrity communications keeps everything flowing.
  4. If the front wheel representing Course (and all of its elements) is not focused on Customers and integrated and coherent, again, chaos occurs. You might end up in a ditch.
  5. Without effective Coaching and feedback between colleagues who work together, people and teams are severely inhibited in their ability to make good decisions, and course-correct as necessary. Problems take longer to solve too.
  6. As the chain suggests, without leaders being able to “transfer” energy, accountability, and empowerment to others, through the mechanism of Feedback, the bike goes nowhere.

PS – and oh by the way…when we learn to ride a bicycle, we never forget. Effective leadership practice, once learned, gets into your bones. Happy peddling!

Are your bicycle components functioning correctly? Are there sluggish parts that would benefit from proper attention? Perhaps your adventures are challenging yet enjoyable because all systems are engaged and working properly? Please keep the conversation moving by adding your comments on social media.

Create the cultural conditions for engagement with The Engagement Cycle

Create the cultural conditions for engagement with The Engagement Cycle

Leaders today know that employee engagement is the key to high performance, so let’s look below the surface and see what’s really involved in creating an engaged workforce. One definition of engagement includes both the aspects of emotional involvement and commitment. You will want to keep those two aspects in mind as you continue to read my comments on this critical subject and understand why “heart” matters so much when it comes to engagement.

How Disengaged Are We as a Culture?

Study after study indicate that employees are dramatically disengaged. Published statistics show that somewhere between 50% and 80% of the current American workforce is just going through the motions of completing their work tasks. It is only by understanding the root causes of disengagement that we can begin to take action to create stronger engagement.

Disengagement causes, at best, a toxic and, at worst, a dangerous work environment. This toxic environment is riddled with fear: fear of losing something, fear of standing out, fear of losing reputation, and fear of making a mistake. Quite rationally, people do things to protect themselves from what they fear. Usually that is to pull back and disappear into the woodwork, not making waves and keeping their heads down.

How Did We Become So Disengaged?

Sure, there are external conditions and pressures that affect an organization’s culture, but in the end it is the way the leadership of an organization responds to these pressures that shapes an organizational culture by modeling the behaviors that employees will mimic.

Organizational wisdom instructs us that leadership sets the tone, pace, and expectations for the organization. So, it’s imperative to look first at the role that leaders are playing, consciously or unconsciously, in creating the internal conditions that lead to employee disengagement.

After reviewing the current literature on the subject of engagement, including various proposals for strategies and actions to promote engagement, what I still see missing is an exploration of the role of heart.

Why Does Heart Matter So Much When it Comes to Engagement?

Engagement is the individual and personal experience of feeling connected to another individual, team, or organization. Equally important is connection to whatever it is that the relationship exists to serve. In traditional business terminology, that could be a shared mission, goal, or objective.

People have four basic needs that must be met in order to create the cultural conditions where they are motivated and willing to engage, stay engaged or re-engage.

  1. Connection. People have a need to connect with other people. We are social animals and our need for affiliation is primal. Employees want and need to feel connected to, and to trust, their colleagues, especially their direct supervisor.
  2. Expectations. Without clear and understandable expectations (vision, mission, strategy, key objectives, and core values), and a personal understanding of their individual role in creating success, employees are confused. When confused, they tend to flee or freeze rather than take action, and behave tentatively in everything they say or do. Clarity around expectations is a pre-requisite for inspired, positive action.

How do we get clarity around expectations? By answering these basic questions:

  • Who are we as an organization?
  • Who are we here to serve?
  • What products and services do we supply our clients?
  • How do our products and services impact our clients’ lives?
  • How do we best serve our customers?
  • What is my role in providing these products or services?

The thoughtful answers to these questions, when understood at a deep and personal level, create the context for positive feelings toward colleagues, teams, and organizations.

  1. Feedback and Coaching. For people to learn, grow, and optimize contribution, they need feedback: what’s working, what’s not and suggestions for change. Almost all coaching conversations address the dynamics of change. Consequently, a great coaching conversation must include discussion of what performance elements (beliefs, behaviors, or actions) need to be added, which need to reduced or eliminated, and which need to be sustained and continued. Including an appreciative inquiry approach to the coaching conversations is critical as well, in order for the Coach to discover what has worked successfully in the past for the individual being coached, and to explore how to expand those techniques to produce even more positive outcomes.
  2. Support. For people to take personal risks they need emotional support. i.e., they have to feel like someone has their back. Providing the necessary support requires the Coach to deliver an individually-tailored cluster of behaviors that can only be identified through a coaching conversation. Once that support is in place and felt by those taking individual and collective risks, trust, collaboration, and accountability are all bolstered.

The Engagement Cycle™

All the concepts discussed so far are depicted in the following diagram of The Engagement CycleTM — the series of steps through which an organization can enhance engagement. Starting at the top of the cycle we presume that “I” want to engage with “You” to create an outcome of “inspired, passionate performance”. The “I” represents the supervisor, manager, or leader acting as coach and the “you” represents the colleague/coachee in the conversation.

The Engagement Cycle

The first thing “I” must do is to be present to in order to connect with “You” at an emotional level. That simply means that you and I need to feel positive rapport toward one another, a sense of connectedness, and some significant amount of trust and respect, and this is normally the outcome of a well-executed coaching conversation.

Rotating to the right around the cycle, we create connection when “I” bring my compassion and humility to our interactions – and “I” take care not to judge “You”. If I am understanding and accepting of you and your challenges, you will feel seen, heard, and respected. My tone and demeanor are critical.

This leads to the next step during which “I” demonstrate my compassion and respect for “You” by listening patiently. As you begin to feel seen and heard, you begin to develop trust and openness in our interactions because you feel safe. You experience me as accepting and compassionate.

With your newfound openness, you find your inspiration to express creatively your ideas, engagement, and passion for our work together. Our relationship has been transformed so that your work is then transformed.

So, it is a deeply interpersonal cycle – one that must be initiated and sustained by leaders of the organization.

Now it is time to ask yourself how many of these steps are you using effectively, and how engaged your leadership team is with one another and the teams they have the privilege of leading. It all starts at the top.

How Crane Consulting Works With The Engagement Cycle™

Crane Consulting teaches The Engagement Cycle™ and all its requisite skills in our Transformational Coaching workshops. While employees may be intellectually stimulated with ideas, challenges and opportunities, their human connection between people must be strong or people will eventually disengage. Without rapport, feedback is just noise. Once these skills are learned, the process becomes sustainable so that transparency, safety, and sincere gratitude become incorporated in the very human experience of participating in modern-day organizations.

What do you think about the engagement cycle? What can you add? Please comment on social media.