Driving growth: Leadership lessons from F1

In the first in a series of features and interviews on Driving Growth in Emerging Markets, NUS adjunct professor Dr Alison Eyring looks at business lessons from the high performance sport of Formula One.

It’s easy to watch an F1 race and assume that winning is all about the driver. These high performance athletes certainly get the glory in victory, but to succeed in F1 both the performance of the driver and the team are crucial.

To celebrate the anniversary of our CEO Roundtable on Driving Growth in Emerging Markets, Organisation Solutions recently brought together top-level executives from leading companies such as BHP Billiton, Banyan Tree Hotels, Johnson Controls, GE, Maersk, and the Dubai Multi-Commodities Centre to continue our series of dialogues.

Shell arranged for the Scuderia Ferrari Team Principal, Stefano Domenicali to share his views on teams and leadership in the F1.

Just like in F1, winning in emerging markets is all about talent: Getting it, growing it, keeping it.

For teams like Scuderia Ferrari, teamwork is crucial. High-performance teamwork isn’t about making friends, it’s about being clear on roles and responsibilities, acting in unison to achieve goals, being the absolute best in what you do, and constantly finding ways to be better and faster.

Perhaps growth leaders can learn from F1 how to translate great talent into victory.

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track280Things change – and change quickly. Jobs are constantly expanding and the business morphs as it becomes larger and more complex.

Under these conditions, high-performing teams can’t just stop everything and seek clarity from the boss.

Imagine the Scuderia Ferrari team stopping in the middle of a race for an unexpected engine or tyre problem – teams are tested when things don’t go right.

Experience, practice and the relentless pursuit of improvement make the difference between the winning teams and the rest.

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On the evening of our CEO Roundtable, we celebrated with Shell and Scuderia Ferrari as they marked their 500th race together. What a feat!

In emerging markets, an array of business partners increases the challenge of growth.

JV partners, channel partners, licensees, and suppliers all play an important part of any company’s growth. These partnerships are often full of surprises and challenge that varies country to country.

What I took away about Shell’s partnership with Ferrari was that it has succeeded because both parties have clearly benefited and even more so over time by learning together.

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Too often we describe leadership as a laundry list of individual traits.

However, it’s clear that leadership in F1 is not about whether a driver is well spoken, stands out in a crowd or is politically astute.

A winning F1 driver goes around a track numerous times and does it faster than all of the other drivers.

This is only possible because hundreds of other people play their part behind the scenes in making this possible.

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drivercam280Leaders stand out in times of defeat or adversity.

In the case of Scuderia Ferrari, if a race has not gone to plan, the leader helps the team to set aside disappointment and regroup, to analyse where performance could be improved, or what could have been done differently.

Despite an incredibly emotional experience, the leader is able to stay calm, emphatic and show concern for their team – an excellent example of leadership!

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While we tend to think of an F1 driver as the spearhead of a team – a team like Scuderia Ferrari is actually a complete organisation comprised of owners, managers, drivers, technicians, and other support crew.

At any time before, during or after a race, different people will play leadership roles.

Stefano Domenicali is a role model for good leadership but also clearly appreciates the crucial leadership role played by the drivers and others. His own style was both friendly and self-effacing, a leader who drives the entire team to win and to love being part of the team.

Leaders who aim to drive growth in emerging markets can learn about leadership and teamwork from F1.

Like a Grand Prix driver who maintains a winning position, leaders who drive sustained growth will relentlessly pursue improvements in what really matters to performance. Most importantly, they will not forget that it is the team who ultimately deliver success.

What have you learned about teamwork and leadership from F1 and other performance sports? Share your views in the comment section below!

  • Author Profile

    Alison Eyring is the CEO of consultancy Organisation Solutions and an adjunct professor at NUS Business School teaching in the MBA programme. She is the founder of the CEO Roundtable for Driving Growth in Emerging Markets.

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