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What Color Do Utility Leaders Wear?

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Look at the picture above. Who is winning the race? You might think it is the person in front.  Nope, not in this race.

The leader of the Tour de France is always the guy in the yellow jersey. The cyclist who has completed the previous stages of the race in the least amount of time is required to wear the yellow jersey. As you can imagine, this jersey is the most sought-after jersey in all of cycle racing.

The greatest bicycle race in the world is happening this month. Check it out. It is on television every day, nearly all day. It’s the big one—the Tour de France—and it consists of 21 stages over a 23-day period, covering 2,200 miles. It’s been happening for over 100 years.

In our house, it’s just called “The Tour.” My wife rolls her eyes every time I tune in because she knows that it will occupy a couple hours of my time each day throughout the entire month of July.

What Does Yellow Have to Do With Me?

Why yellow? The yellow jersey, or the maillot jaune in French, was first awarded in 1919 to make the race leader stand out, so everybody can see him, and the tradition still continues today.

During The Tour, everybody’s watching the guy in the yellow jersey: his teammates, his competition, and the spectators. They watch what he eats and what he drinks. They watch who rides around him. They listen to what he says and what he doesn’t say, and they carefully watch and listen to his teammates as well.

Why Do They Watch and Listen to Yellow?

Everybody wants to know the strategy of the guy in the yellow jersey. They want to know what he is thinking, how he is feeling and what he will do next. Everybody wants to know when he’s going to make a break for it, when he will push the pace or just ride along in the pack.

And that’s not all. They look at the face of the guy in the yellow jersey when he's climbing the highest peaks. They're looking at his eyes and his legs, and they're looking at how much sweat is coming off his body. His competitors are trying to figure out when they can make a move, and his teammates are watching for ways they can help him. They're all watching and assessing the guy in the yellow jersey, and they are all planning their next moves based on what he’s doing. 

You see, he is leading them in more ways than just this race.

What Color Are You Wearing?

That’s exactly what is like to be a utility leader today. You’re the person in the yellow jersey. Everybody’s watching you: the people that work for you, the people that you work for, the people who work around you, your peers, your competitors and your customers.

“You are Always Wearing Yellow”

They are all watching you through each of your stages, too: when you arrive in the morning, when you talk on the phone or to your employees in the hallway, when you send that email, or go out in the plant or just walk through the office. 

They're watching your face and your body language when you are under stress and when you’re not. They're listening to everything you say and don’t say. They’re watching what you eat, drink and do, and they’re watching whose company you keep while you are doing it. They carefully watch and listen to your teammates as well.

We all know that everybody is trying to figure out what you think and what you will do next. You are leading them all in more ways than you might think, and not only with your formal authority through the chain of command.

You’re the One with the Yellow Jersey

It doesn’t matter what color you pick today.  If you’re going to lead, “You are Always Wearing Yellow”

And if you want to lead, that’s you! So, put on that yellow jersey and be the leader you were picked to be.


How Do You Look in Yellow?

Are you worried about your visibility or the image you project at work?  

If so,my new book, “Must Be Present To Win” can help you!

You won’t learn this concept in business school. You may not even learn it later in management training or executive development courses. Oddly, the one “it” factor in leadership—being present, fully invested in the moment—is rarely taught.

Add my new book to your summer reading list.  Available on Amazon.

Doug Sterbenz's picture

Thank Doug for the Post!

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Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jul 17, 2019 1:56 pm GMT

Doug, as a road biker myself and in the process of training for a big ride coming up called the Copper Triangle, I enjoyed this post.  I loved the correlation of the "yellow jersey" to a leader.  I look forward to reading your book and taking to heart your message above!  

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 17, 2019 4:29 pm GMT

Audra, it caught my attention too.

OT - is it still possible to register for the Copper Triangle or have I missed out for this year? Looks like a great ride, and something I might be able to finish without too much hurt.

(btw, love the photo of Geraint Thomas and Peter Sagan making a turn at ~25 mph, inches from other riders)

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jul 19, 2019 8:30 pm GMT

OT - Bob, I think you can still register - the ride is the first weekend of August.  Let me know if you are riding and maybe we can connect.  

Doug Sterbenz's picture
Doug Sterbenz on Jul 18, 2019 6:04 pm GMT

Thanks Audra. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 17, 2019 6:34 pm GMT

This is an interesting analogy-- to take it a step further, the yellow jersey leader might not be the one going the fastest at the moment, but the jersey indicates that they've done the most to that point to earn the jersey and thus warrants observation from the field. Just because a given utility leader isn't moving first or fastest towards a given strategy/innovation does not mean he or she is not the 'overall' leader and perhaps their restraint in speed at that moment is something that should be replicated. 

Doug Sterbenz's picture
Doug Sterbenz on Jul 18, 2019 6:05 pm GMT

So true,  Love it Matt. 

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