The Domestique

A while back I discussed Yellow Jersey Leadership.  You can find that post in earlier postings on this blog.  In thinking about that concept I should have started with the idea of the domestique.  Let me set some background first.  A cycling team for the Tour de France consists of nine cyclers.  The leader and eight domestiques.  The domestiques ride in front of the leader giving him an easier time during each stage of a tour.  It’s called drafting.  They do everything they can to make the leader win.  Most domestiques have no chance of winning the race themselves, but work hard for the leader.  In a sense they are hired to serve the leader.  They get water and food for the leader, some — called super domestiques — will help the leader in especially difficult parts of the race day.  

There are times when domestiques are given the honor of winning a stage.  It’s not like they get no glory.  But their main job is to help their leader wear the yellow jersey.  What struck me about this concept of domestiques had to do with where the yellow jersey wearers come from.  At one time they were the domestiques.  They were the ones doing the serving.  They were the ones carrying water and food and helping their leader through difficult parts of the race.  

A rider come to mind when I think of domestiques that have become famous.  His name is Greg Lemond.  In fact there is a famous scene in one of the stages of the tour when the team coach has to talk Greg back into the peleton because going at the speed he was going he was going to be the wearer of the yellow jersey instead of Bernard Hinault.  You see Hinault was the leader.  Lemond was working for him, not the other way around.  But then the next year and the year after that and the year after that Greg Lemond wore the yellow jersey.  He had served first and then it was time for him to lead.    

I thought about what a domestique learn’s that teach them how to lead more effectively.  I came up with a short list.  Perhaps you can think of more.  So here we go:

  • As a domestique you learn a lot about team work.
  • You learn how to help out your leader when he/she needs it.
  • You learn how to meet the needs of others.
  • You become patient, waiting for your time to lead.

I think a lot of times we believe we deserve to be leaders before we serve.  We don’t realize that the lessons we learn being the domestiques serve us well when we become yellow jersey leaders.  And in fact the greatest leaders are the ones who know how to serve well.  So where are you today?  Are you a domestique?  If so learn all you can because some day you’ll need it as you become the wearer of the yellow jersey.  If you are wearing the yellow jersey today, don’t forget the lessons you learned as a domestique.

That’s this leader’s view.




2 responses to “The Domestique

  1. That cycling metaphor is a good one. I don’t know much about cycling except for the doping scandals. But at the risk of mixing metaphors, when I read your thoughts about a domestique, I think of Bill Guthridge. After 30 years as a domestique to Dean Smith, he was head coach at UNC for only three seasons and ended up taking 2/3 of his teams to the final four. Won’t be too many people who equal that percentage.

  2. That’s a great observation. I could have used anyone of a number of sports analogies. I like the stories of the quarterbacks who sat on the side-lines in virtual obscurity and then when thrust into the spot light saved the day for the team.



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