Race Across America and Becoming a Better Leader: Do You Have What It Takes? by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD

Chris Ragsdale

by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD

Many of you might remember that I finished team Race Across America (RAAM) in 2002 and attempted solo RAAM in 2005 but had to withdraw due to serious medical challenges.

Now Redpoint Coaching is proud to sponsor Seattle based, ultra cycling legend Chris Ragsdale  in his 2013 Race Across America solo endeavor.

Why are we sponsoring Chris?

First, Chris is one of the most accomplished ultracyclists in the U.S. and ranks easily in the top 10 world-wide.  Among many other accomplishments, he holds the 1,000 km road world record, has won what is probably the most competitive ultra event (other than RAAM), the Furnace Creek 508, and has ridden more than 500 miles multiple times during the National 24 hour race.

Second, Chris is a great friend, an amazing racing and training partner and an incredibly humble human being.  Chris and I share many memories riding and racing together. Two that I will never forget: winning and setting the course record in the two man division of the Race Across Oregon and riding through the endless second night of the 1,200 km Boston-Montreal-Boston event.

Third, there are many similarities in mindset and character that are required to compete in an ultra endurance event such as RAAM and submitting yourself to our leadership coaching process and graduating a truly better leader.

Think that is a bit of a stretch? Read on. Early hint: neither RAAM nor our coaching is for the faint of heart!

Do you have what it takes? You do if you have plenty of guts, lots and lots of humility and great dose of discipline!

Why RAAM requires plenty of guts 

Imagine you and I are standing at the starting line of RAAM in California at the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Ahead of us are 3,000 non-stop miles across this vast country. We have 12 days to finish. Now here is a sobering statistic for us: half of us standing here will not finish on the East Coast but will have our dream shattered. Somewhere along the way we will dismount our bike and not finish the race. Statistically, it will be either you or me.

For some of us it will be early in the race. Maybe it will be on the first day in the 120 degree heat of the Mojave Desert when half the field will be puking or during the second night and third day in the thin air of the Rockies. Others will be beaten by the monotony of the never-ending plains with failing necks during the middle part of the race. And some of us, with less than a third of the way to go, will find ourselves getting peeled off the bike by our crew and being transferred directly to ICU with fluid-filled lungs, broken pelvises or worse. (This unfortunately is what happened to me in 2005.)

Despite knowledge of all of this, Chris Ragsdale will be at the RAAM starting line in June 2013. For eight months leading up to the start in June he will put the rest of his life on hold to live and breathe RAAM 24/7.

RAAM has more similarities with a mountaineering expedition than a bike race: recruiting and organizing the crew, ordering vehicles, shipping gear, designing the race plan and yes, of course, training (most riders clock between 4,000 and 10,000 miles in the six months leading up to the race).

And then there is the financial aspect. Chris’ RAAM budget is around $25,000, which is average for solo RAAM riders.  Know also that Chris is a husband and father of two young boys age 5 and 3, is on-and-off remodeling his house and is not independently wealthy. Both he and his wife Lara work full time.

Taking all this on with the knowledge that he statistically has only a 50% chance of finishing requires plenty of guts no doubt.

Why our leadership coaching process requires plenty of guts

While none of our coaching clients (to date) have either thrown up or ended up in the ICU, plenty of guts are required nevertheless to complete the coaching process.

Our coaching is significantly more transparent than any other leadership coaching we are aware of.  We do not believe in simply coaching our clients behind closed doors in their corner office. We take your coaching to your organization and involve your team heavily in your leadership development.

This starts after our initial 360 process in which we interview each of your stakeholders (your bosses, your peers and your direct reports) and then feed back the results to you in a very detailed report. As the leader being coached you will stand in front of your team of stakeholders and share the leadership development goals you are committing to based on the initial 360 results. Let me be even clearer: you will explicitly present to your team of stakeholders which weaknesses you will look at improving.  You will also ask them to help you improve.

For most of our clients, this is the scariest part of the engagement. And yet it is incredibly powerful. When is the last time you have seen a leader stand in front of his team acknowledging his/her weaknesses and specifically asking for the team’s help to get better?

Throughout the coaching engagement you will be asking your team of stakeholders for regular face-to-face feedback on your progress towards your goals.  You are specifically inviting the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly feedback.

Half-way through and at the end of our engagement, your stakeholders will assess your progress in a very short anonymous s survey.  Once again, you will ask them to be brutally honest.

Truly becoming a better leader requires that you put yourself out there. It might not seem as scary as attempting to ride your bike across the United States, however as any of our clients will tell you: Our leadership coaching does require guts. In the words of one of our current clients: ”I have to admit I did not sleep well the night before the stakeholder meeting where I had to present my coaching goals based on the initial 360. However, the feedback after the meeting from my team was so incredibly positive that it was worth the lost sleep. They expressed a true appreciation for my openness and willingness to dig deep in order to become a better boss.”

Over the course of the next few ezines I will share with you how lots of humility and great doses of discipline are required to both compete in RAAM as well as graduating from our leadership coaching process.

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