Leadership in Historical and Theoretical Context – Lance Armstrong Leadership can be described as the nature of the influencing process and resultant outcomes. It can be explained by the leaders disposition, behaviors, and skills, as well as their follower’s perceptions and the context in which the influencing occurs (Stork, Leadership course document). There are many different theories of leadership styles and discussion about their ability to inspire, motivate, influence, and persuade.
We have read about many leaders who – through their strong leadership qualities – emerged as a source of change or revolution in their times. Some great leaders of the past include Napoleon, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, who at their times brought about significant changes in their circumstances, led their followers, and influenced them in such a way that their actions became inline with the desired purpose (Wren, 1995). The role of time and place did play a significant part in their leading and influencing the people.
In this paper, I will discuss not only the influence of time and place on the formation and emergence of Lance Armstrong as a leader, but also how his leadership style has changed over time, specifically as a result of his ability to adapt to a crisis – his battle with cancer (Bennis & Thomas, 2007). Although leadership qualities can exist in people from birth, that doesn’t mean that everyone who has such qualities and capabilities will become a successful leader. Many people do not become a leader because of the absence of opportunity, time, place, and situation.
With a vision, hope, and determination, Lance Armstrong changed the course of his life and emerged as a leader and a great influencer. In 1996, at age 25, Lance Armstrong was at the peak of his success and achievement as one of the world’s best cyclists, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The cancer spread to his brain, necessitating two brain operations, the removal of the affected testical, and a grueling course of chemotherapy and radiation (Armstrong, 2001).
The cancer forced him to reevaluate his life. Before cancer, he sometimes figured he was so much more powerful than that of his teammates and as a result, Armstrong tried to win many of his races on his own, without working as a team, he wound up losing to men he could have easily beaten had he been willing to cooperate with the others on the team (Carmichael, 2005).
The turning point was his battle with cancer. He asked himself if he survived, who exactly he intended to be as he was not happy with the man he had become at that point (Armstrong, 2001). By the time he finally received the news that he was cancer-free, he had become a truly different person.
He was able to transform his crucible experience into a lesson that provided him with a greater understanding and appreciation of self, new insights, and quality of mind. True leaders create meaning out of difficult events or relationships. Leaders come out of these experiences with something useful, such as a plan of action, new insights, or a sharper focus (Bennis & Thomas, 2007). Prior to cancer, Armstrong never would have thought of founding a cancer organization, but with his new perspective on life, survivorship became the core of his vision and he launched the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
He wanted it to be a place where people could go to for cancer information of the most personal and practical kind. The main purpose was to provide medication and treatment, after recovery services, public learning and awareness, and remedial and technical research funding (Armstrong, 2001). With the inspiration from Armstrong’s own cancer fight, since 1997 the Lance Armstrong Foundation has contributed millions of dollars to cancer research and will continue to fund cancer research for years to come (Rodriguez, 2002).
In addition to launching the cancer foundation, he decided to go back to cycling with full confidence and determination, and likewise; won three consecutive Tour de France titles. What influenced his behaviors was the crucial time and situation when he became a cancer patient. His determination, beliefs, and actions can best be described in light of leadership theories. One theory of leadership which can be applied to Armstrong is Transformational leadership, which is how leaders change teams or organizations by creating, communicating, and modeling a vision and inspiring others to strive for that vision or goal (Wren, 1995).
His courage, determination, and positive attitude motivated and influenced many people including his cycling competitors, who learned how to adapt, work hard, and never lose focus even in the face of adversity. His vision and goal to launch an organization from which he could lobby for the cancer cause became a reality and influenced others to be hopeful, brave, and optimistic. He modeled that vision by becoming a symbol of hope for others to change their mentality and “live strong”.
Another leadership perspective that can be used to describe him is Charismatic leadership; that is having interpersonal attraction, whereby followers develop a respect for, and trust in, the individual. This style of leadership influences and motivates followers to become involved in change (Wren, 1995). Once they saw the great cyclist maintaining his hope, confidence, and positive attitude while overcoming his difficult circumstances, they were influenced by the same thinking and actions as Armstrong . It also enables him to connect with his followers and understand their needs and perspectives (Riggio, Chalef, & Lipman-Blumen, 2008).
Lance Armstrong’s leadership style can also be explained by his traits, skills, and behaviors. He has integrity, determination, positive attitude, and confidence. He is a skilled athlete and expert cyclist, as well as a cancer activist. He has excellent interpersonal skills and is an excellent communicator. He is comfortable in front of large crowds and is able to articulate clear goals and visions to his followers. He leads by example and puts his words into actions that his followers can observe. This shows his competence, which allows his followers to trust his decisions.
He communicates high expectations for his followers and shows them confidence in their abilities to meet these expectations (Riggio, Chalef, & Lipman-Blumen). Lastly, I want to discuss the leadership process of fulfilling needs and achieving goals. He is motivated by relationships, helping others, and a vision for a cancer-free future. Lance Armstrong attracts people of all walks of life, making them feel safe in his presence, affirming their need to belong, and encouraging their potential (Buckingham, 2005). He relates to the core of his follower’s pain and promise because he himself has known both pain and promise.
He understands their need to be heard. Having that understanding and that connection with his followers fulfills their need for significance and security (Buckingham, 2005). In turn this fulfills his need to help others. He also has a need for self-actualization and strong desire for achievement. Time, place, and situation do play a vital role in the emergence of a leader, as well as shaping one’s thoughts and perceptions. These things play the part of a catalyst that not only keeps the individual on track, but also incites more desire and demand to be a leader.
In conclusion, Lance Armstrong is a successful leader, who by his determination not only changed the course of his life, but that of millions of people from all walks of life. He is no longer just an accomplished athlete, but a strong voice for his followers.
References Armstrong, L. (2001). It’s not about the bike. New York, NY: Berkley Trade-Rei Rep edition. Bennis, W. G. & Thomas, R. J. (2007). Leading for a lifetime: How defining moments Shape the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Buckingham, M. (2005).
The one thing you need to know about Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success. New York: Free Press. Carmichael, C. (2005). Armstrong learned about teamwork the hard way. Retrieved October 14, 2009. From ESPN. com. Riggio, R. , Chaleff, I. , & Lipman-Blumen, J. (2008). The art of followership: How to create great Followers Create Great Leaders and Organizations. California: Jossey-Bass. Rodriguez. B. (2002). The Lance Armstrong Foundation. Retrieved on October 2, 2009. From Cancer Futures – Volume 1. Stork, E. (2009). Leadership Defined.