Leading to the Front

Earlier this month, I joined a group that was biking across South Africa. Not only was I able to make new friends, I also got to introduce the group to our work training leaders and caring for vulnerable children. Over the seven days that I was with the team, I rode over 350 miles. You should know that I am not a biker so that probably doubled the amount of miles I have ever ridden! Needless to say, I had a lot to learn.

One event sticks out in my mind as particularly formative. It was early in the trip about midway through the ride. I had stuck with the lead group for a while in the morning, but was growing tired and slowly fell behind. At one point I was about a 100 yards behind the group, which felt like an insurmountable distance to catch up. At that time, our South African group leader Mark came up from behind me. Apparently he had been watching me and knew I was falling further and further behind. With two simple phrases, he changed everything for me on that ride. He rode up next to me and said, “Follow me, Ill take you there.”

Instantly, I gained new confidence. Mark got in front of me and I fell in line behind him as he shielded me from the oncoming wind. With that, my pedaling grew easier and my hope was restored. I kept my head down and carefully followed the cadence of his pedals, matching his rhythm and speed. Slowly, I noticed that we began to gain ground. And after a while, to my astonishment, we caught up to the group.

You may be able to guess why this memory is lodged in my mind- it characterizes so much about the struggle of leadership when people fall behind, teams fall apart, and you must lead people back to success. So what happened in those few minutes with Mark and how can we do the same for others? I believe there are three very simple things, which I learned on that ride: target, tactics and teamwork.

Target: The first problem was that I had lost my target while trailing the group. More specifically, I had lost hope of getting to the target. I no longer even wanted to catch up. My target had become status quo and staying behind. Without Mark calling me back to the main objective of reaching the group, I would not have had the motivation to do so. His simple vision of “getting there” was enough to renew my goals.

Tactics: I am not a cyclist, as I mentioned, so I didn’t have the knowhow to catch up to a more experienced group ahead of me. But Mark did. All I had to do was follow his lead, match his steps and tactics. He took a slow and steady approach to catching up. It was so steady that I hardly noticed I was going faster. This kind of strategy and pace are necessary to move people to a better place. People need more than just a target, they need a strategy to get there.

Teamwork: The final piece of the puzzle was teamwork. I was unable to reach the lead group by myself. I had tried to keep up, but was unable to because I had not yet learned how to ride in a pack. In this case, I needed Mark to draft the wind for me and show me how to cycle more efficiently. When he shielded me from the oncoming wind, my pedaling became 20% easier and I was able to keep up. Moving ahead requires other people, not just for motivation but for longevity. Every good biking team knows that teamwork is imperative to keeping pace, conserving energy and going further.

This event also provides a great image of Biblical leadership, specifically of Christ who said the same words to his followers two thousand years ago, “Follow me”. The difference is that His goal is to take us to God and godliness. We are all subpar with God and falling further behind. Perfection is the goal, but our efforts to get there alone always fail. We need a Guide who can take us there. That person is Jesus, but we must learn to follow Him. We need to learn to walk like him, live like him, and love like him. We need Him to bear the wind for us and we need His Spirit to inspire us with hope. If this is how our wonderful Savior leads us, then we must learn to do the same with others.