Founder and CEO of Soap Aid, Michael Matulick, on the profound impact of competing in the world’s toughest bicycle race.
While balancing my role as MD of a hotel amenities company, I founded the not-for-profit organisation Soap Aid with the vision of becoming an eco-crusader in my industry. By recycling the soap found in hotel rooms and creating a safe, clean and life-saving resource that could be redistributed to communities around the world that needed it most, we began to deliver the positive change that I was seeking in the world.
Since then, we have saved over 130 tonnes of soap from needless landfill, produced more than 1,000,000 fresh recycled bars and provided 270,000+ people globally with access to critical sanitation. It was a great start but this year, I wanted to achieve something even more ambitious: I wanted to double our impact.
When I decided to form Team Soap Aid and compete in the Race Across America (RAAM), I did so because I knew it would take something big to get people’s attention, open their hearts to the cause and impel them to support us. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would be such a significant learning opportunity for me before I even reached the starting line. I have since discovered leadership tools that will aid me in ways I couldn’t have ever foreseen.
The leadership benefits of cycling
The leadership benefits for CEOs that cycle or participate in a similar physically intensive hobby regularly is a well-documented reality. The Harvard Business Review found that there’s already a correlation between a CEO’s success and the time they spend fulfilling an endurance-based pastime.
Quite simply, it is some of the most efficient stress-relief you can give yourself. When you are present in the moment and just trying to get up a hill, the white noise of corporate pressure fades away.
It’s no secret excessive stress impairs strategic thinking and studies link this kind of pressure to an inability to engage in positive leadership behaviours. It’s for these very reasons that I first fostered an interest in cycling and committed myself to finding the time to maintain it. Over the last six months, my approach to leadership has improved dramatically, and now I see my professional life and my cycling life as symbiotic.
But it’s not always about trying to break through the exhaustion barrier on a 100km trek. Cycling’s quiet moments can also provide you with plenty of time to contemplate – something we don’t always make the time for. Whether you’re on a holiday or even in those quiet moments that you’re spending with loved ones, it can be hard to switch off and be completely present.
Cycling presents you with a clear opportunity to appropriately consider your business decisions away from the stressful pressure of the work environment. I’ve found that being able to problem solve on the road has a profound impact on my ability to be properly engaged in the time spent with family and friends.
Practice what you preach
An organisation can only ever be as good as its leader. Rather than tell our employees how much Soap Aid should mean to them, it is far more effective to show the magnitude of what this cause means to me.
The Race Across America is no fun run. It is widely accepted as one of the most gruelling multi-day road cycling events on earth.
In business and philanthropy, we don’t often get the opportunity to test our limits or experience failure without larger repercussions. You have to keep moving forward and keep your head above water. Because of this, you might not understand your limits until it’s too late.
There are plenty of times on the bike that you want to stop and rest, but getting up is so much harder than just slowing down momentarily. This opportunity to brush against failure, try again and overcome in a matter of hours is more valuable to my leadership ability than any conference I’ve attended.
Although I knew the members of Team Soap Aid prior to the commencement of training, we have only become a true team through breaking through these endurance barriers together. Consider the power this kind of experiential solidarity could have on you and your team.
No, you don’t have to compete in a 4800km race and no, it doesn’t have to be about cycling. There are plenty of opportunities to build your organisation’s strength outside of the office without it feeling like overtime. Consider even one evening a month where you and your staff go indoor rock climbing, for example. You might be shocked at the kind of impact it has.
When we hit the first leg of RAAM, departing Oceanside (near Los Angeles) and head East through the scorching Californian desert, I’ll be doing so as the best organisation leader I have ever been. There’s not much on this earth that can grant you that kind of power for good.
Learn more about Soap Aid here.
Team Soap Aid commence RAAM on June 15. They aim to achieve a target of $100,000, which will help Soap Aid recycle 1,000,000 x 100gm soap bars, providing critical sanitation to more than 40,000 children for a full 12 months, with the potential to save 18,000 children’s lives.