Racing & Leadership

In 2018 I got back into one of my passions from when I was a teenager - building and racing RC cars. It was also an awesome opportunity to bring my daughter and son into the hobby. 

After a season back at the local racetrack I learned something very quickly - my twitch reaction speeds were no longer what they were. I was getting smeared by almost everyone. Plenty of times I'd be in the lead or top 3 and as soon as the announcer called my name -- straight into the sidewall.

I noticed another pattern around, and that was the pairing of parent/child into mechanic/racer. My particular track has the honor and luck of having a global real car racing champion from the area who also races here. This person can win racing anything & know what they had?  Yep, a parent that was the mechanic. Without surprise, when I adopted this model, our success went up.

Fast forward to this year - and I had the pleasure of creating a connection with a local Iwi leader ... hold on.

// Brief segue for those not familiar with New Zealand! //

  • If you speak Japanese, German or Spanish use those vowel sounds.
  • Maori = the indigenous people of Aotearoa, New Zealand
  • Te Reo = the Maori language
  • Iwi = a tribe, or collection of families
  • Hapu = a subtribe
  • Whanau = a family or family-group
  • Marae = meeting place
  • Want to learn more?
// Returning to your regular programming ... //

A group of us were invited by the local hapu, Ngati Whatua Orakei, to their home and Marae as part of a discovery and relationship building exercise as my company was opening its first public office in New Zealand.

What I took from this was an unexpected lesson in leadership and mentorship, shared with me by Te Aroha Grace, in the form of passing generational knowledge. An example he referenced was letting the energy of the youth run ahead and learn, explore, break, action. You too were in that position once - and as you mature your role is to drift into the background and advise. You need to create room for the younger generation to grow.

Me, Te Aroha at his home - colleagues cropped out to protect the innocent!

As they say in management - when things go well all the recognition goes to the team, when it doesn't it goes to the leaders. It's an important role with bounds that need to be respected in order for your organization, iwi, family to operate well. Make room, be inclusive, be flexible.

Every single manager or director in my career that was a good influence and made me a better person understood their maximum impact was to advise and empower me versus trying to run ahead and attempt to (re)prove they can do my job better than I can.

Every single manager who didn't realize this was a net negative to not just myself and the team being managed, but to their own career. You have to let go of the tools you used to be an expert on, and move onto the new set which await you. Micromanagement is a death knell, and implies lack of trust.

If you're wondering how we got here from talking about RC cars - well, it might be obvious now.

As we age and grow we develop new skills and lose others. It's important to assess continuously our skills and how we can make them effective for ourselves and the groups we exist within.

Understandably most people aren't aware of the near infinite complexity of racing RC cars, here's a non exhaustive list of the variables that will determine a win or loss on any particular day:

  • Weather - condition of the clay
  • Tire  selection - dozens of compounds and treads
  • Weight distribution - how does your vehicle fly?
  • Modified or Stock class - where are you competitive, TODAY
  • Your competition - Like everything
  • Battery condition - don't run out!
  • You - too much caffeine? too little?
  • What model is this season's fastest - Associated, HB, Kyosho, Mugen
Same as with leadership - you can't just read up and decide what you're going to do, it takes years and years of practice. Building those mental models, that intuition (the very thing AI threatens to impede on!), the knowledge of what NOT to do -- it all exists beyond the skills of having fast reaction times and keeping a car on the track.

Your job is to turn this knowledge into appropriate advice. To develop a new muscle on how to guide and grow those around you.

Surrounding the racetrack sit sometimes dozens of tables.  Some are a solo person who's doing everything, many fit the pattern I mentioned at the beginning of this post; a veteran who tunes, fixes, selects configurations & then hands that little radio controlled missile off to the driver who's going to make things happen. 

I have grown to enjoy being the tune & repair person.

Another great thinker, Sam Harris, highlights this in a conversation with one of his guests. The lesson is we need to acknowledge the physical changes in a very important organ, the brain. Adapting to this is a real challenge, and like most things, the first step is to become aware of it. An example he highlights is how brilliant inventors in their youth don't make the transition to advising and end up moving into absurdity. Can you think of some?

Both professionally and within this niche hobby I find the most important thing I can do is unleash and leverage my new capabilities which can be used to support and grow those in my teams who choose other paths and have other natural and latent skills.

I'm immensely satisfied when a big professional or personal success happens within my team or family - and very content to have been the advising role. 

When I think back to the influencers and mentors in my life - I can see that same satisfaction in them when they created the space for me to succeed. Thank you.


Popular Posts