What does it take to lead an elite team?
Following another fantastic season by our sponsored cycling team, captain Amy Gornall offers some insight into the success of her team and what it means to lead them.
I wear many hats throughout my week. I am a small business owner, an athlete, and captain of Pro-Noctis Heidi Kjeldsen 200 Degrees Coffee – the best elite women’s cycling team in the UK.
We have nine riders on the team in total. This is my third year of captaining the team. I believe I was initially chosen as captain because I have lots of experience and knowledge of cycling. I am also someone who has a natural inclination to speak up.
It’s a privilege to be in the role of captain, but it is equally challenging. I have responsibilities to my team, our sponsors, and the management team.
Striking a Balance:
Since becoming a team captain, my understanding of what being a captain entails has changed. It’s much more than just giving the odd motivational speech to your team an hour before the start of a race. It’s a lot of people management. The personal skills needed to fulfil the role are vast; you are dealing with ambitious people with their own ideas, goals, and opinions.
The ability to bring everyone together to work in harmony can, sometimes, be a difficult and isolating position to be in.
Finding the balance between friendship, individual goals, and the collective team ambition is often the biggest challenge. You want everyone to achieve their personal goals but, ultimately, we are part of a team and that must come first. It’s my role to try and keep ‘the team’ as the focus.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes that means riders must put their aspirations into second place to achieve a common goal. No one will be consistently happy with you, or your decisions. But I believe that if you come from a place that always puts the team in the strongest position possible, you have the best chance at making the right call.
I’ve learned that it takes careful consideration to bring out the best in people. It takes time, patience, and trust from the riders. That trust is especially crucial. It not only helps us to function better as teammates, but it’s key to our performance on the bike. Cultivating trust from my team isn’t a given. It is something that I must earn, and rightfully so.
When I think of leadership, I know I value honesty, authenticity, a growth mindset, and the belief that someone will always give 100% on the day. That’s what I aspire to. I am very mindful of my performance and development. I ask a lot from my team but also from myself. I re-aligned my output into the team to include my passion and ambition. This has (hopefully) increased respect from my teammates because I am leading by example and holding myself to account.
Communication in any environment is always paramount but, in our team, we need to be able to communicate quickly and efficiently in short, high-stress moments in races.
I try to be attuned to the way that riders in the team communicate and learn. This then informs how I share information. I know I am sometimes a little too honest (!) so I continue to put energy into improving how I communicate with different people – everyone receives information in different ways, so I am working on consciously making the effort to understand the individual needs of those in the team.
It’s so valuable to embrace individual strengths and characters. Seb Coe said: “Weak leaders love weak people around them.” I believe that having a strong team around you – with people that challenge you – is key. It is what keeps the momentum of the team in a positive, forward trajectory.
As a captain, you are there to lead. But, you also want to empower the team to drive you forward.
Lead and Adapt:
It can often look like the captain makes all the decisions as they are the one presenting them to the team. In my experience, this isn’t the case. I have a team of people to draw knowledge and expertise from, including management, coaches, and mentors. It’s important to gather diverse intel and perspectives to help shape your strategy.
Ahead of a big race or event, a lot of time and energy goes into developing a well-rounded, adaptable performance plan for the team. Such a plan takes into consideration the goals for Pro-Noctis Heidi Kjeldsen 200 Degrees Coffee and the opportunities for individual riders. There is also an element of flexibility – plans do not always work out in cycling, we cannot control everything, and having the ability to be adaptable amongst chaos is vital to our success.
Reflection is key to continued development, communication, and progress in the team. It enables us to better prepare for the next challenge. Constructive reflection and feedback can sometimes take time to mine post-race because you often have a real range of perspectives coming into play. It’s important that riders have the chance to feedback and that I have the skill to listen.
Understanding the purpose of a debrief is principal. It’s a chance for us to look at what is and isn’t working so we can move forward. It keeps us progressing as a team, even if some of what we have to say and discuss isn’t positive. Debriefs are not an opportunity to blame people. Leading these discussions can often be difficult; at times I have felt as if I am on the other side of the team. But it comes back to building that trust.
Trust in each other can help us to overcome difficult conversations, knowing everyone is just trying to get to the same place.
Overall, I enjoy the role of captain. With all the highs and lows of leadership, it’s important to relish the journey and to surround yourself with strong people who challenge you to be a better you. I am lucky enough to be captain to some extraordinarily strong women and it is a pleasure to work with them.
At Pro-Noctis, sport is at our core. We have been actively involved in supporting teams and athletes since our inception. For us, sports sponsorship presents a significant opportunity with immense value, helping athletes to fulfil their potential through learning, development, performance, and mindset coaching.
Interested in how we can help you too? From coaching, courses and qualifications, workshops, consultancy, and leadership training, we can directly address your exceptional concerns or goals.
Speak to someone for free advice about how we can support you. Just get in touch.