F1 Leadership

Today’s guest entry is by Stefano Piantoni who is sharing his thoughts post the OWP session wherein Mika Hakkinen and Allan McNish revealed their approach to high performance: focus, wellness and secure base leadership

As a child, I have always fantasized about driving a race car. In my mind, pilots were heroes, the human embodiment of a perfect integration between man and machine. I craved to live their fast-paced lifestyle, experiencing an adrenaline rush during acceleration after every curve. While working in Shanghai, I had the opportunity to attend an F1 Grand Prix and visit the pit lane. The roaring sound of V8 engines and the intense smell of kerosene fuel still tickles my imagination today.

Meeting one of my personal heroes at IMD during Orchestrating Winning Performance conference is an entirely different experience. Only now six months into my MBA, after five major group projects, five business simulations and countless cases, often completed just before the deadline, am I able to relate to him at a personal level, almost as if he were my mentor. When Mika Hakkinen shared his method to achieve results in a high-pressure environment, I felt I experienced what he was talking about. Success in such a demanding environment is, according to Mika, related to the ability to stay focused on a specific goal. In the case of formula 1, it is achieving an advantage at the start of the race. Continuous practice and repetition opens the door to mastering a skill. Choosing what to focus on – and what not – is a fundamental decision that can ultimately lead to different outcomes. It’s the choice of where to play and how to win. On a much smaller scale I am currently analyzing which industry and geography can best support me in achieving career goals. I must keep my focus throughout the assignments in the second half of the year.

James Hewitt rationalized Mika’s behavior through a medical perspective, epitomized in the old saying ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ – a healthy mind in a healthy body or wellness as we like to call it. This can only be achieved through an adequate balance of task orientation and rest. Physical exercise can help us disconnect, restore energy and creativity levels and focus once more on the task at hand. Repeatedly avoiding breaks to continue working because of time constraints is unhealthy and unproductive.

At times, I struggled to reach the right balance, especially in fast paced assignments with a tight deadline and little margin for error. Walking away for a short time to detach my mind contributed to generating new ideas. This is exactly what happened when working with Xiaomei and Silke on our Healthcare 2.0 presentation for navigating the future. We turned the technical concept of integrated healthcare in Alzheimer’s disease into a valued chain of three steps to highlight the need of strong collaboration among industry players. What we initially considered a complicated and abstract concept was broken down into a main message everyone can understand.

I personally engaged Allan McNish on high performing teams to gain more insights. In order to arrive to frontier performance, leaders need to apply secure base leadership and allow risk taking. Fear of failure can be overcome by showing vulnerability and admitting mistakes. Addressing wrong choices is more productive that deliberately ignoring or failing to address an overlooked issue. Leaders should therefore act as a living example of this simple rule. The startup projects we completed in April and the marketing, finance and strategy simulations taught me just that. A feedback session among colleagues can provide learning opportunities for more effective collaboration. I just now realize how the first part of my MBA has been like a Grand Prix championship and how many similarities there are among our organizations.

Recalling the discussion with McNish, I pick up on his key suggestion that applies to racing as well as to business. Every endeavor requires solid analysis and yet – the controller side of me brightens up at his comment – data alone will not drive you to the finish line. You need an actionable exit strategy that will reduce your exposure should the conditions change.

I’m quick to act on McNishes advice: as I am writing this blog I’m boarding a plane bound to Munich to meet with IMD alumni. We will jointly explore global trends and  opportunities in the industries I wish to contribute to.

Stefano

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