+Scott Watson

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Lewis Hamilton/McLaren Approach to Winning - Is It Worth It?

Today, Formula One's governing body, the FIA have announced a suspended 3 race ban for McLaren race team and their reigning world formula one champion Lewis Hamilton. Good news or bad news?

A quick review tells us that during the Australian Grand Prix, both McLaren and Hamilton collaborated to withhold information from race officials when Hailton finished the race in fourth position behind Toyota's Jarno Trulli. The incident which caused the McLaren team to appeal against Trulli's 3rd placing was that he had illegally overtaken Hamilton while the race was under the control of the track safety car. This means that no overtaking is allowed until the safety car has left the track and normal competition recommences. McLaren stated that they had not intentionally allowed Trulli to overtake Hamilton, but (and this is the really clever bit), Hamilton's communication with his team officials was recorded. And when the recording was played back, it contradicted what the team had told race officials, perhaps to elevate their team and driver to a place on the podium. More can be read about the details of this incident at http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/8024661.stm

Transferring this sporting situation to the business arena, have a think about the following:

Hamilton is currently world champion and has become something of a hero for being a 'good guy' who persevered through personal challenges during his childhood years to pursue his passion and has developed a very powerful reputation for youngsters and adults alike. He seems a quite likeable chap.

Did Hamilton choose to be misleading/dishonest and willingly collaborated with his team-mates to mislead officials in order to gain a better placing in the race? Hamilton stated that his boss, Dave Ryan had instructed him to 'withhold information'. Doesn't this reflect Dr Robert Cialdini's point that subordinates often feel compelled to comply with an authority figure, even if they don't agree with the boss's decision? This principle, in another way, helps Hamilton to abdicate any personal responsibility for his (choosing) to comply and (choosing) to be allegedly misleading/dishonest. Relate this back to the workplace and this is where a junior employee will say 'I was just following the boss's orders' when a problem appears or quality has suffered. For schoolchildren when caught stealing or mis-behaving it's something like 'Johnny MADE ME do it.'

When officials heard the radio communication between Hamilton and his team-mates (the game was now over), Hamilton quickly made an emotional, and possibly, genuine apology for his part in the scandal. Is this because he had been found out, because his personal brand, and potentially the brand of each of his sponsors would be damaged to some degree? Just thank of how his sponsorship negotiation power has diminished for his next renewal discussion! I invite you to learn more about 'guilt by association' in the corporate arena. Perhaps Hamilton has learned that honesty is the best policy - as it's really easy to remember, and hopefully, that 'doing the right thing' is just as important as 'doing things right' in a high-speed motor vehicle.

It's true that we can learn from mistakes - at least if we choose to. But what do you think the initial response of Formula One's governing body, the FIA might be if McLaren/Hamilton complain or appeal a decision mid-race in the future? Might they be more interested in ensuring they aren't being duped than ensuring that they are applying the rules and regulations of the race itself? Will an element of suspicion, unfounded or otherwise exist towards McLaren, even though the team now has a new boss who has implemented 'a complete culture change'? WOW, he's managed to achieve this in just a few weeks? Management Consultant's appear to take years, if not decades to achieve this in the corporate arena!

The decision by the FIA to impose a 3 race ban which will only be imposed if 'further facts emerge' about the incident or if there are 'further breaches of the rules'. Prior to the FIA hearing, news media were reporting that McLaren could be suspended, if not thrown out of Formula One forever. Perhaps a little sensationalist? Well, when in the grasp of a global recession, team sponsors such as Royal Bank of Scotland amongst others not being in a position to continue with multi-million pound sponsorship deals and F1 enthusiasts perhaps watching their pennies a little more - the last thing the FIA would do was to ban a team. It wouldn't be good for the F1 brand or keep money in the sport.

In terms of Hamilton's previously unblemished record in terms of appearing to be a decent bloke, remember, we human beings keep score. We tend to remember when someone has deceived us, and trust, while it can be restored, it can take a long time to forgive - not so much forget.

The danger with blaming. An important point to bear in mind for the viewing public and Hamilton and F1 enthusiasts is this. When we label another human being, we don't define them - we define ourselves.

I hope that you win each and every day, but please don't allow it to be at the expense of your character and integrity.

Thoughts? Please do share.

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