For Armstrong and Contador, the Leadership Wheels Come Off

Posted 07.28.2009

Armstrongfeud For most Americans, cycling’s annual 15 minutes of fame has come and gone with Sunday’s conclusion of this year’s Tour de France. In case you missed it, this year’s winner was Spain’s Alberto Contador. Finishing third and making a comeback after a three and a half year retirement was the seven time winner Lance Armstrong. One thing that made the race more interesting than usual this year was that Contador and Armstrong were on the same team although you’d never have known that from the way they’re sniping at each other now.

In a post race press conference, Contador said, “My relationship with Lance is zero.  He is a great rider and has completed a great race, but it is another thing on a personal level, where I have never had great admiration for him and I never will.”

Armstrong fired back on his Twitter account. Quoting the tweet, “Seeing these comments from AC (Alberto Contador). If I were him I’d drop this drivel and start thanking his team. Without them, he doesn’t win.”

Snap and double snap.

I’ll acknowledge that I know next to nothing about the sport of cycling. I do, however, find the leadership aspects of the sport pretty intriguing. As you probably know, guys like Armstrong and Contador win their races with the support of teammates who provide offense and defense for them throughout the event. It’s sort of amazing that Contador and Armstrong came in first and third as members of the same team. That seems like one heck of an achievement and one worth celebrating.

Instead, the post race attention is on a clash of egos and arguments about who should have been the designated leader of the team.

I think there are two broader lessons from this story that leaders in any field can apply. The first is drawn from Johan Bruyneel, the manager of their team. What should he have done to get Contador and Armstrong on the same page? From the press accounts, it sounds like the two superstars barely spoke to each other over the three weeks of the Tour. Shouldn’t the job of a manager (any manager) be to facilitate communication and cooperation among the stars on the team? I think so.

The second lesson is an illustration of one of the most common causes of conflict on a team. When the roles and responsibilities of the team members aren’t clear, you’re setting yourself up for a clash.  That’s even more the case when big egos are at play. The manager’s  job is to make sure that the roles and responsibilities are understood and everyone knows how they fit in. Over the course of the Tour, the daily drama was who going to cede to who – Contador or Armstrong? Shouldn’t they have figured this out ahead of time?

There’s more to it than that obviously, but I think those are two reasonable places to start on looking for leadership lessons in this year’s Tour. I’m sure that some of the Next Level readers are both serious fans of cycling and students of leadership. What’s your take on the way things played out between Contador and Armstrong?