Leadership lessons learnt from an epic bicycle adventure

June 13th, 2014

I have always been fascinated and inspired by the personal growth and development experienced by doing something new or different.

I was therefore delighted with the opportunity to interview Tom Nelson who followed his dream to cycle round the world. Leadership lessons learnt from an epic bicycle adventure

I wanted to find out what had inspired Tom, what challenges he had overcome and what he had learnt from his world journey on a bicycle.  

Above all I wanted to find out if there was any correlation between Tom’s experiences and the qualities of a great leader.

Inspired by his sister who had cycled across Eastern Europe and the adventurer Mike Beaumont, Tom decided to view the world from a bicycle saddle. He shared his vision to with his friend Phil Saunders who was inspired to join him.

Together they agreed a goal to cycle 30,000 km and raise £75,000 for the charity War Child. Realising they couldn’t achieve this on their own, they created a team of sponsors and supporters. They called themselves the Daring Dynamos and used social media to spread the word.

After a lengthy period of planning, fund raising and preparation, the pair set off from London on 17th March 2012. They headed south across Europe towards Africa. Pausing in Istanbul, they met Tobias Schmid who agreed to cycle with them through Africa. Leadership lessons learnt from an epic bicycle adventure

Their arrival in Cape Town a year after departing from London was a bittersweet moment for Tom. The Daring Dynamos had travelled a remarkable distance and shared many adventures together.

However, Cape Town heralded the end of the journey for Phil and Tobias. Bidding farewell to his remarkable companions, Tom boarded a plane with his bike to continue the journey alone across the USA.

Acknowledging Tom’s courage and determination at continuing alone, I asked him what he had found most challenging.

Without hesitation Tom replied ‘the deserts’. He described the extreme heat and constant battle to source safe food and water. The daily head winds tested the cyclists both physically and mentally.Leadership lessons learnt from an epic bicycle adventure

However loneliness was his greatest challenge. In Africa Tom had cycled through the Sahara desert with Phil and Tobias. Together they had faced difficulties, solved problems, celebrated victories and had fun.

In the USA however, Tom cycled through the desert alone. He found the courage, determination and dedication to get through each and every day by staying focused on his vision and mission.

I asked Tom what significant lessons he had learnt from his journey.

His reply was “learning to be patient with others and sensitive to their needs.“ Living in close proximity and challenging situations, the three men learnt to appreciate and accommodate each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Being very driven and goal focused, Tom also had to temper his impatience to complete the journey. He learnt to take time to enjoy the experience with his friends.

Tom cycled from Miami to LA before returning to England. By this time he had cycled across three continents and raised a handsome sum of £35,000 for War Child.

Tom continues to support War Child and can be found from time to time on his bike exploring somewhere new.

I discovered many parallels between Tom’s story and leadership including;

  • Have a vision that inspires and your team
  • Agree goals that motivate and focus everyone
  • Be brave and face up to challenges
  • Be authentic, empathetic & show vulnerability
  • Communicate; share, listen, learn

I’d love to hear what more leadership characteristics you can identify from Tom’s story.

Jenny Johnson, Leadership Coach