learning from the peloton

“The peloton is the main group or pack of riders in a road bicycle race. Riders in a group save energy by riding near other riders. The reduction in drag is dramatic; in the middle of a well-developed group it can be as much as 40%”Wikipedia

“Pelotons are able to operate in the way that they do because learning and experience is embedded within them. Young riders are mentored by seasoned professionals. They learn through imitation, trial and error, developing both instinct and intuition, daring to experiment when the occasion presents itself. The sport is all about life lessons acquired on the road, the knowledge gained from numerous failures as relevant as that acquired through the occasional success. Teamwork provides firm foundations. But autonomy within loose frameworks, decision-making and accountability are all encouraged from early on. It is this crucial combination – individual action contextualised in relation to the collective – that the modern corporation, government agency and charity now need to learn.” —Richard Martin

Leadership is fluid in the peloton. A lead rider one day may be hauling water bottles to support teammates the next day. I describe this as temporary, negotiated hierarchies. This is emerging as the new nature of work in the network era. What is needed to win a bike race, with complex human relationships in constantly changing conditions, is similar to working in the creative economy. Connected leadership serves everyone.


In today’s workplace, connected leaders need to understand how networks and hierarchies are related. They need to manage for complexity, but most importantly, work on building trust. Trust reduces the need for rules. Principles are better than rules in dealing with complex situations. Adding more control processes fails to build resilience into the organization. Every time the organization deals with an exception using a standard method, and fails to account for the unique situation of the human affected by it, trust is eroded.

In a transparent, diverse, and open organization, management should mostly stay out of the way. The real work of connected leaders is to design, build, and test new organizational models. The peloton provides an excellent metaphor.  Leadership today is more of an architectural task, or one of setting up the right systems. But understanding the system and the perspective of the ‘domestique’ will also require time spent ‘ferrying water bottles’. In networks, leadership is learning.

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