On Leadership, NASCAR and Changing Gears


Race car driving is a potent metaphor for leadership.  Watching any NASCAR race shows how many people it takes to keep the car running and get it over the finish line. 

An efficiently running business is no different…

The Leadership Lane

True leadership develops when organizations can unite behind a common purpose that serves their unique customer base.  While “winning” in business doesn’t involve high-speed left turns or checkered flags, it does incorporate some of the techniques that have steered NASCAR drivers and their crews to success.

A powerful exercise for many businesses is to simulate a “pit crew challenge” where they change the tires of a car in a timed challenge.  This forces teams to work together and communicate effectively.

In an actual work environment, team members may be less apt to work together, as they are more concerned with their own ego and position within the organization.

Teaching them about the power of a pit crew offers a different perspective on what it means to work together.

Manual Management

No one gets into a high-powered race car without a great deal of training, but we don’t always view our own businesses this way.  Although many businesses have NASCAR-level equipment, they may not have NASCAR-level drivers leading the way.

Whether through online business courses, seminars or specialized in-house curricula, making sure managers have adequate training and skills before putting them behind the wheel is a hallmark of excellent leadership.

CSR Sets the Pace

One area that is new to NASCAR and the business environment is the focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which encourages businesses to get out in the community and help others.   By employing CSR, leaders can use what they have to leverage good publicity.

Think of the Daytona 500 when Tide was used to clean the track after a fire.

Proctor and Gamble thought outside-the-box and offered a solution that worked.  They couldn’t have paid for advertising that equaled the trusted exposure they received in those tense moments.  Effective leadership is using every situation as a way to give their team positive attention.

Strategize Like These Guys?

Did you know that NASCAR drivers don’t drive to win every race?  Sound counterproductive? Perhaps not.  NASCAR drivers want to be in the top 12 at the end of the season to be part of the final race series, but they don’t need to be No. 1.

Business leaders, too, need to develop strategies for staying ahead of the competition and getting to the final race series.

Leaders may not win every lap but they must plan to win the race.

Evaluation Nation

NASCAR has not been immune from the recent economic downturn.  Like any business, it has worked hard to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses in order to increase attendance.

Businesses need to do the same:

  • Changing Gears 

One way NASCAR has increased its appeal is by participating in community issues.  By having car sponsorships that highlight social issues, such as hunger among the elderly, NASCAR has opened itself up to new fans.

Businesses that get involved in the community and refuse to stick to traditional demographics will also benefit from a new base of support.

  • More Horsepower

NASCAR is enjoying a new influx of fans and appreciation for the sport, partially due to its focus on effective research and strategy, which proved to its partners that it was serious about increasing profits.

Businesses that take time to do the research and create effective partnerships by leveraging online, social media and community involvement create an environment where business is revved up.

NASCAR’s high-powered environment offers many lessons that can help leaders fine-tune their own business.  Whether reaching out to the community, having a team emulate a “pit crew” or giving managers additional training, businesses can get fueled up by repeating the strategies that brought NASCAR success.


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Jason Monaghan is Specialist at Notre Dame Online Executive Education
He serves his clients with development and distribution of content strategies
Email | LinkedIn | Web 

Image Sources: blog.al.com

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