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  • Writer's pictureSusan & Renée

What Does Formula 1 Have to Do with Leadership?

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

So, let’s start off saying that we do not know a lot about Formula 1 Racing. We are not car people. As long as our cars run, have air conditioning and a radio, we are good.

One of our clients, however, has been passionate about it for years and when he talked about it his enthusiasm was contagious. With 20 Grand Prix races every year in 20 different countries, Formula 1 is one of the most global and popular sports. It has an annual TV audience of around 500 million.

So, we were intrigued at his suggestion for us to watch Netflix’s series Formula 1: Drive to Survive. We found it fascinating.

For those of you who don’t know anything about the sport, teams of hundreds of people engineer these multi-million dollar cars and then take them around the world to race. This sport has intrigue, passion, intellect, strategy and history. One wrong move, or the sudden move of another vehicle can send the blood sweat and tears of a year’s work crashing into a wall. These crashes have consequences that ripple through the organization.

The team principal is the boss of the F1 team. Everyone who works for the team ultimately reports to the team principal. The team principal is responsible for coordinating all types of personalities, stresses and priorities. They are constantly assessing internal and external conflicts. Each of the 20 team principals have radically different personalities. Some are cool and calculated, others are passionate and wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Is this sounding at all familiar? How similar is this to your role as the leader in your company?

While in F1 the crash is very tangible, business leaders can feel the same tension and emotions if they see their hard work go awry in volatile and unpredictable business climates.

As we have watched this program, we have been struck at the lessons that Formula 1 can teach business leaders. Season 2, Episode 4 focused on the long dominant Mercedes team, led by Toto Wolff. During the episode, he said some things that any leader can keep in mind as they build high quality teams and navigate market challenges:

We have a no blame culture. We blame the problem, not the person which can be hard.”

“We have an honesty culture of saying how things are.”

“When we make mistakes we all make them together.”

Creating a culture of continually focusing the team on a problem solving perspective prevents the type of blame culture that is so destructive to organizations. It can be challenging as it may seem natural to try to root out who or what was to blame for a failure. Ultimately, you do need to find the source of the problem. This requires the reflexes and skills of an F1 driver to make discovering the source of the problem a productive process rather than a witch hunt.

Building a continual improvement culture is key. The core of this type of culture is based in this belief:

I trust that everyone is trying their best and focused on our goals. Bringing all of our talents to bear on a problem is the key to our success.

Everyone is accountable for their part, but rather than focusing on the negative of failure, they view failure as a learning tool to move forward. In this type of culture, the people who may have contributed to the failure will often feel worse than any reprimand that you could give.

So, take a lesson from this high power world of Formula 1 to guide your own teams toward victory across the finish line.

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