Leading vs. driving

Apr 29, 2019

“This was the fourth or fifth time since 1997 that Zweig Group has done one of these events coupled with a racing school. They always get me thinking.”

We just got back from Zweig Group’s CEO Roundtable in Scottsdale, held at the fabulous Valley Ho Hotel and Resort. After a great meeting led by our CEO, Chad Clinehens, where we tackled probably 20 or more “topical” topics in 15 minutes each, we spent our second and last day at a private racetrack on the edge of town driving exotic cars/hot cars at high speeds on the track.

Our instructors were two older Porsche factory team drivers. They gave us verbal instruction as well as some scary hot laps in a 15-passenger van to explain the track. They also sat in the cars with us (an orange Lambo of some sort, a Ferrari 458, a McClaren Supercar, a hot normally-aspirate Porsche 911, and a Factory Five Cobra race car sans windshield) while we drove to give further instructions (well, they couldn’t sit in the Cobra with us because it had only one seat!)

This was the fourth or fifth time since 1997 that Zweig Group has done one of these events coupled with a racing school. They always get me thinking. And while Chad opened up this last one with a presentation on the parallels of racing and running an AEC firm that he will likely share some or all of in these pages, I wanted to share my own thoughts and observations on high speed driving versus leadership as well. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. Not everyone is cut out for the job. Just like driving a hot car on a race track, not everyone is cut out to lead a company. Some of it just can’t be taught. Instincts are instincts. Reflexes are what they are. Preparation helps reduce anxiety but it cannot overcome the fear in everyone. This applies to both high speed driving and leading a business.
  2. Experience helps! I noticed when Dan Williams, CEO of Garver and our most experienced driver (he has prior track experience), got in a car, he shot right out into the track with a heavy dose of throttle and immediately went faster than the rest of us. The same thing applies to leading. You may be a great professional in your field, but there is no substitute for prior experience leading a group of people.
  3. The flashiest and most powerful vehicle is not necessarily the fastest vehicle to get around a track in. The 550+ horsepower orange Lamborghini was the flashiest car there. And it was indeed fast and handled well. But the car the driving instructors preferred to take people in hot laps in was the 375-horsepower Porsche 911. One of them pulled me aside and said it was by far the best car there to go fast around the track in – and the most ordinary (if any of them were) least powerful car there. The same applies to leadership. Sometimes the quiet one, the one with the least flash and outward ego is the most effective person to lead a firm in this business, or any other for that matter.
  4. There’s something to be said for having the latest model. Comparing the last model supercars – all of which have automatic transmissions and tons of computerized driving assistance – to the crude brute of the Cobra roadster – really pointed out some differences. While I have a history of liking overpowered cars with less than great handling, if you want to go around a track quickly, there’s no substitute for all-wheel drive and computers that know exactly what gear you should be in. Same thing applies to leadership. Sometimes some younger blood – schooled in the latest technology of business – can do a better job than us old dinosaurs. That doesn’t mean – like the Cobra – that we aren’t fun to keep in the stable, too!
  5. You gotta have fun with it. The older I get the more aware of it I am that if you aren’t having fun – if you don’t really love what you do every day – just like driving a car – you need to move over and let someone else do it. While they may not drive just like you, they will hopefully do a better job of it!

If this kind of event sounds good to you, keep your eyes and ears for our next one! And meanwhile, “drive” carefully!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

CEO Roundtable Retreat This seminar is designed to be an inspiring experience – with presentations and one on one interaction with industry experts, and ample networking time and candid conversation. You will leave the experience armed with new ideas, new tools, and new friends … all helping you become a more effective leader of a more successful company.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.