Time to get off the track?

Time to get off the track?

Entrepreneurs are typically full of self-belief and even arrogance about their own abilities. They have to be, it’s what makes what they do possible, it’s an essential component of an entrepreneurial make-up. But it can also blind them to reality.

And I invite all entrepreneurial business founders/owners out there to consider that there comes a point in the evolution of your business where you become the equivalent of the Formula One safety car. Now the safety car does a very important job in Formula One. It comes out onto the track if there is deemed to be danger present (usually in the form of a broken down or smashed up car or associated debris on the track) and leads the Formula One cars around the track at reduced speed until the dangerous situation has passed.

While the safety car is on the track, the Formula One cars have to stay behind it in the strict race order that they were in when it was first deployed. No car is allowed to overtake any other car, especially not the safety car.

Now it’s not that the safety car is slow - far from it, in fact. It’s a specially modified Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG (for the car aficionados amongst you), capable of accelerating to 62mph in 4.5 seconds, and on the main straight at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix, it typically reaches a speed of 174mph. So it clearly needs to be driven by someone who knows how to handle a fast car, and in fact has been done so for the last 17 years by a German guy called Bernd Maylander, a former successful touring-car racer.

The actual speed Bernd employs at a given point in the track is critical - it has to be slow enough to be safe (the whole point of him being there in the first place), but fast enough to ensure that the tyres and brakes of the Formula One cars stay just warm enough and their engines just cool enough.

So in summary, the safety car is a fast car driven with great precision and doing a very important job, but… it’s holding back a pack of much higher-performance cars.

Can you guess where I might be going with this?! Not necessarily all the time or in every part of your business, but if you’re an entrepreneur running your own company, I would assert that at least somewhere in the mix you’ll be playing the role of the safety car. You’re pretty good at what you do, you’re going pretty fast, but backed up behind you are your people, being kept just warm enough to stay interested, but not being allowed to race or compete with either you or possibly anyone else, and not being allowed therefore to demonstrate their full potential. And effectively at the times when you’re being disappointed by the quality of the people in your business (a common complaint in entrepreneurial circles!), consider that that’s like the safety car looking back at all the Formula One cars that it’s in the way of and being unimpressed by their speed.

So have a look at where you might be in the way. Maybe you’re holding on to a few things that you could be delegating, maybe your opinion holds a little too much weight in the business, maybe you’re not as literate as you could be in what your people are truly capable of, maybe you tell people what to do a lot and don’t very often ask them what they think they should do.

Maybe you’re worried about them driving recklessly and coming off the track at a sharp corner, but unless they’re given free rein to go at that corner hard, they’re never going to work out where the perfect braking point is and their lap times will never become competitive.

So I urge you… Pit lane is coming up… Get off the track, however that looks for you, and watch your people accelerate into the space that you create for them.

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