It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I was returning home from a visit with my daughter in Williamsburg, VA and, since traffic was slow on I-64, Google maps suggested I drive home on Route 5.
I had not driven that route before and was pleasantly surprised to find that much of the drive was alongside the Virginia Capital Bike Trail. As I meandered alongside the trail, I observed numerous bikers and found myself thinking about the image of a cyclist embarking on a journey. The bike trail has dips and curves that bikers have to navigate as well as a few hills that they have to power through, digging in for strength.
At approximately 52 miles long, a cyclist needs both endurance as well as a well-conditioned bicycle in order to make the whole trip. Without proper training and equipment, the journey would be daunting.
As I contemplated the cyclists along the path, I was struck by how our own development and growth is much like that of a bicycle. The back wheel of the bicycle represents all of those critical technical skills that are necessary for our role. It signifies the training and expertise that we acquire in our particular area – whether that is financial, training, human resources, technology, etc.
The lifelong development of the back wheel never stops. In today’s world of rapidly changing technology, we have to continuously “pump up” that bike tire to make sure it’s in top notch shape for the trip.
But, what about the front wheel? The astute professional recognizes that the areas of character, leadership, communication and relationship skills are critical components to launching his ride and maximizing his back-wheel skills. The ultimate ability of a strong front wheel to climb mountains and traverse the trail is building a thriving team that not only allows but encourages everyone to reach their full potential. A strong front wheel will be key to bringing out the strengths of the back wheel and, ultimately, the ride of your professional life.
The knowledge necessary for building the front wheel is not recognized as requiring the same attention, lifelong study and growth as the technical skills of the back wheel. With each of the spokes on our bicycle’s front wheel representing a different area for development – communication, conflict management, strengths development, approach to change, character, ethics and so many more – this wheel requires special attention.
Often referred to as the “soft skills” (a term which I personally do not like), it is easy for us to overlook how important these skills are. The result is that we don’t dedicate the time and energy necessary to develop these.
Strong front-wheel dynamics will look different from employee to employee, manager to manager, leader to leader. But one thing is the same: without a strong front wheel, the journey will be treacherous. In order to steer along the path, a vision and development of a plan and appropriate skills are necessary.
Have I taken care of my front wheel? Is it steering me in the direction I want to travel? Is someone else steering the bike or is it careening down a hill out of control?
There have been times in my professional life that I did not recognize a problem with my front wheel until it was too late. Failure is a painful teacher – but effective if we open our eyes to being humbled and learning from the experience rather than being angry, hurt or assigning blame (I have been thankful for grace-filled colleagues more than once in my career!).
Building the front wheel takes more than just reading a book – it takes patience and practice. But remember, it steers the back wheel. Without a strong front wheel, we will struggle to pedal even the shortest distance.
In addition to her work with TAG and Transforming Church, Mariana is the Staff Training And Development Manager for IMB (www.imb.org)