Writer’s note: Hey friend, what a month it has been. I want to thank you for taking the time with all that is going on to check out another post of some words I wrote. I also wanted to let you know that I’ll be shifting the BraveNewLove tone in this time of crisis and unrest. Now that I am no longer able to offer massage services for the foreseeable future, I am hoping to heavily invest in the community aspect of the platform (look at me positively framing this situation, baby steps). I also have a new consultant who is sharing my workspace because he is no longer able to go to his office who let me know that my writing can come off a bit sharper than I most likely intended it to. Whoops - working on it. :)
The point of this preamble is to let you - yes you reading these words right now - know that you are welcome here. I shared in my very first post on this site my belief that through community support and personal work, we can make the world around us a better place, and I want that to be our guiding theme in these times. Don’t worry, we will hold space no matter where you are at with what is going on (sad, un-phased, frightened, optimistic, unsure, etc) with shoulders to cry on, joyful hearts, and hands ready to lift each other up.
My last essay this month, 'Girlie', was posted the day before my partner and I decided to start self-isolating and social distancing due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It was a cautious decision that we didn’t make lightly, but after taking into account his extensive travel M-F for 3 straight weeks across the nation, and my pre-existing condition (asthma…wheeze…), we felt like it was the right call.
So much has happened since then in terms of closures, guidance on social distancing, and then sheltering in place for many cities. It has been a whirlwind for all and everyone has been impacted in one way or another. With all the stressors, concerns, and things to be focused on right now, I realize that my planned post on examining issues with women’s rights and feminist icons might be a bit too heady or discomforting in a time when comfort is so desperately needed.
I’ve decided to share another story on female leadership from my own life by telling you about an amazing female leader I’ve had the pleasure of working with named Tina through a story that is meant to inspire us to keep our heads up.
Tina was one of my three Ride Directors on the 2013 Texas 4000 team back when I was running the program. Taking on the role of Ride Director for a Texas 4000 team is a huge commitment because, in addition to being responsible for your own physical training and fundraising, you are signing up to oversee that each of your teammates make it through the training process as well. You’re also responsible for overseeing the progress of planning the travel logistics and equipment needs that are handled by your teammates while also serving as the motivational and disciplinary figure of the team as well. They are the “team captain,” of their group of cyclists or the CEO of their “company,” with the extra hurdle of being a peer that is experiencing each milestone of the program for the first time just like everyone else on the team.
Under my structure, the role was selected in September when the team comes back from summer break which is around the 6th month of their 18-month total commitment. We would have all interested riders address the team prior to a team vote, complete a case study and participate in a formal interview. Once selected, we would hit the ground running and work to fill the other leadership positions on their route and begin weekly meetings with myself to coach them on how to best handle the various team and committee meetings they would be leading and sitting in.
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time working with and coaching each of the Ride Directors that I worked with during my time with the nonprofit. I was a proponent of identifying and building on their various strengths which would ultimately influence the dynamics of their specific teams. Tina’s biggest strength was her ability to tell a story in a way that would motivate and create buy-in from the team. I regularly said that peer leadership was much harder to do successfully as opposed to managing someone in a traditional business setting, and after having the experience doing both, I can confirm that is the case. There isn’t an underlying sense that the person you are leading ‘must’ do as you say in ways that are taken for granted in corporate situations. No one is getting paid with peer leadership so there isn’t any “because I said so” situations that managers (usually bad ones) in the corporate world take for granted.
As a result, I was regularly working with the Ride Directors to identify ways to empower their teammates to WANT to do at the task at hand, or at least understand the reasoning as to why it needed to be done. I also felt it was extremely important that the teams start looking to the Directors for guidance on things before me since I wouldn’t be with them on the road in the 70-day summer ride. This meant a ton of coaching sessions on messaging and framing so that they could communicate in ways that would inspire, reassure, and build trust whether they were dealing with a teammate directly or running the full team meeting speaking in front of 120+ cyclists.
From the beginning, Tina never really required that much coaching, if any, on this front. She had a natural ability to craft a way to deliver a message to the team in a way that would get us to the desired outcome. She would incorporate personal experiences, small observations she had made about individuals, and humor to deliver some of the toughest messages while still keeping spirits high. She was constantly surprising me with her ability to connect what seemed to be random observations about a person or situation and tie them together in very compelling ways.
This skill benefited everyone very well because Tina was leading the first team riding the Ozarks route which was a brand new third route that we had added in 2013 in an effort to grow the program to allow for more participation. This meant that she was an integral part of an almost two-year planning process we had undertaken to map out the new route, evaluate equipment and logistical needs, and budgetary concerns for an extremely lean nonprofit. We also had to create buy-in and support among the broader Texas 4000 community of supporters and alumni riders who didn’t all see the value in change.
I didn’t share this widely at the time, but the summer of 2013 was my most anxious of any of the summers I lead the program because we were sending a third of our riders on the biggest team we had ever had (73 cyclists vs 40ish) on a route that the organization had never taken. Even with the excessive planning we had done, I was still concerned that sections of the route wouldn’t be ridable due to the street views on Google not being accurate (yes, the team street viewed the entire routes prior to departing each year). Would the higher number of large cities the route was riding through prove to be too many commitments for the group? Would the remote sections of the route in Canada actually have adequate resources like potable drinking water as we expected based on our research? Would the larger group of 73 cyclists prove to be too large for the final stretch of the ride when the teams combine? Of course, we had all of this planned and thought through thanks to the efforts of the 2013 team and help from alumni riders and volunteers, but all of it was theoretical.
While there were some struggles like there are for any team (we were constantly working through identifying A, B and C contingency plans because nothing ever went 100% ‘according to plan’), the first Ozarks route was a phenomenal success. Tina’s gift of storytelling and motivational speaking certainly helped make all this possible and ultimately created a culture of inclusion and family that became part of the Ozarks brand for future teams as well. You can see for yourself by watching quick video that Jose Lozano (alumni rider from the 2008 team) created for the Ozarks team that year:
After the 2013 team was back and we had celebrated their accomplishments at the organization’s fundraising gala, I was beginning to take the steps to transition to the next team. It was a quick turnaround each year with the Ride Director selection starting just two days after this capstone event for the team that just completed the ride. It was always an emotional time for me because it meant moving on from the group of young leaders I had been working with for 18 months. During that transition week when the selection process for the 2014 team’s Ride Directors and collecting feedback from the 2013 team on their experience with the program overall, Tina gave me a gift.
It was a framed piece of weathered scratch paper from a small pocket-sized notebook with what we call “turn by turns” on it. Each morning, the team would write their directions for the ride that day on a piece of paper small enough that they could keep with them for the duration of the ride that included direction and mileage to make the next turn. This was typically the only information the riders would have about the 70+ mile ride in front of them unless they took the time to look up additional facts like elevation, but even then their knowledge of what their day would actually look like was pretty limited.
Tina let me know that the piece of paper was her ‘turn by turns’ for the very first day of the Ozarks route. She said that she knew how much work had gone into growing the program, adding the route, and successfully getting the biggest team in the organization’s history at the time to Alaska. “I know there were so many factors stacked against us, but we did it together and we did it well,” she said as I smiled through the tears that were welling up in my eyes. She had done it again.
I realize that we’re living in unprecedented times and that beating a pandemic and a bike ride to Alaska are by no means the same thing, but stories like this give me hope that if we keep our eyes on the road ahead, and follow the turn by turns, we will get to our destination. So let’s keep those turn by turns (see below) in mind, and help each other along this ride.
COVID-19 “Turn by Turns”
Staying at home as much as possible to the extent that you are able to based on your area and work requirements.
Maintain social distancing of a 6ft. radius in public.
Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
Wash hands regularly for 20+ seconds with warm water.
Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
Keep up to date on developments here.