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Tell them the truth about what it takes

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in Leaders & Managers

If it hadn’t been for San Francisco investment banker Thomas Weisel, the cyclist who whipped cancer may never have raced again.

Weisel founded the team that Lance Armstrong eventually led to win a record seven Tours de France. But not before Weisel gave the cyclist a dressing-down that Armstrong calls the “most brutal” in his life. And then, he gave Armstrong a second chance when nobody else would.

Here’s how it happened:

A master of high-velocity sports— speed skating, skiing, sprinting and cycling—Weisel formed a cycling team in 1988 to capture the prize he hadn’t been able to win for himself: the Tour de France.

“When he rides,” friends say of Weisel, “he puts his head down and goes. God help you if you stand in his way.”

An 18-year-old Armstrong joined the team in 1990 and won the U.S. amateur championship the next year. The year after that, Armstrong quit Weisel’s team to join another. Then, he came down with cancer.

By the time Armstrong licked the disease and wanted back in the sport in 1998, his new French team had dropped him and nobody else wanted him, including Weisel, who thought Armstrong acted too much the prima donna.

“He hadn’t been enough of a leader,” Weisel says, explaining that Armstrong didn’t respect other riders or the support team. That’s when he sat down the cyclist for a good talking-to.

That talk changed Armstrong’s life. Weisel decided to reinvest in his early prodigy. Armstrong started out wobbly, and a year later, won the steep mountain stage to Sestriere and his first Tour de France.

Lesson: Although you certainly shouldn’t roll over folks who lack the mental toughness of a Lance Armstrong, you do need to be direct and honest enough for them to learn how they can secure a place on your team … and win.

—Adapted from “High Rollers,” Bill Gifford, Outside.

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