Leadership lessons from Lance Armstrong
One of the highlights of SAPPHIRE NOW, in addition to meeting with many customers and hearing how their businesses are benefitting from SAP solutions, was hearing Lance Armstrong speak at the ASUG keynote. As a cyclist, he has long been one of my heroes, so you can imagine my excitement in seeing him speak. It was actually the second time I have seen Lance in person; the first was a few years back when he raced in San Francisco. I saw him for about 5 seconds per lap as he sped by at 30 miles per hour – basically, an intense blur of color.
This time, he was much more relaxed, wearing a plain shirt with an open collar. Lance’s presentation started with a brief timeline of his racing career. After racing in the 1996 Olympics, he was diagnosed with cancer. Upon his release from the hospital towards the end of that year (after chemotherapy and several surgeries), he was distressed to find his phone lines silent with offers from cycling teams. Eventually, the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, reached out. A few years later in 1999, Lance won his first Tour de France. In 2004, he made history, by becoming the first person to win six Tours. The next year, he extended his winning streak to seven. But, for him, it’s not about the bike.
One of the reasons I admire Lance so much is that he has used his fame to help others. This was the focus of his keynote talk and the topic of a great blog by Jarret Pazahanick about paying it forward. Lance’s LIVESTRONG Foundation has sold 86 million of the ubiquitous yellow wristbands. Overall, the foundation has raised $457 million to date to fund cancer research. Apparently, Lance is as meticulous about data collection and analysis for his foundation as he was when training and racing in the Tour. In spite of the success in fundraising, he feels that his work will not be done until more progress has been made in the fight against cancer. In battling the disease, as with bike racing, every second counts.
Lance shared also some stories about his encounters with other celebrities. His story about the sourcing of LIVESTRONG wristbands and his meeting with the Dali Lama was very funny. He also shared an anecdote about speaking at Mohammed Ali’s 70th birthday party. Ali is another sports giant that has been very generous in giving back to the community. One of Ali’s memorable quotes is:
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your space on Earth.”
After Lance’s 7th consecutive Tour de France victory, I thought about his leadership style, how this approach led him to victory, and how these might apply to a business situation. There were some interesting parallels.
- Focus on the immediate task.
- Keep the goal in sight — always.
- Work harder than everyone else.
- Surround yourself with the best possible people.
- Lead by example.
- Share the rewards.
- Use technology to your advantage.
- Experiment when you have time to learn from the results and when the downside risks are small.
I believe these guidelines are still relevant today in building a winning team.
Lance closed with two requests:
- Support his LIVESTRONG foundation.
- If you live and vote in California, please support Proposition 29, which will reduce the incidence of lung cancer by imposing a $1 per pack tax. He said that this is the only sure way to discourage teens from starting to smoke – which will prevent them from getting lung cancer downstream.
Kudos to the ASUG organizers for bringing such an engaging speaker to SAPPHIRE NOW.