What the “Vettel Incident” teaches us about Leadership

courtesy of metro.co.uk

courtesy of metro.co.uk

What the “Vettel Incident” teaches us about Leadership

The hot topic in leadership this week (or at least one of them) concerns Sebastien Vettel in the F1 Malaysian Grand Prix. If you are not familiar with the story, you can read about it here.

The simple fact is that Vettel ignored team orders and put himself ahead of the team in a desire to finish first. This is a laudable characteristic in a winner – you want them to be competitive. But not at the expense of the team. What Vettel did reminds me of when I was recruiting as a sales manager. To get an insight into the character of the person I was interviewing, I used to present them with an apparently impossible choice;

“Would you rather be the top sales person, or a member of the top sales team?”

To answer “top sales person” may suggest you would put your own interests above the team, but you are probably a self starter. To answer “tops sales team” may suggest you lack drive and could hide behind the success of others. Neither answer is particularly desirable, as both may say negative things about you. There was an answer I was looking for, but I’ll share that with you at the end of the article.

The psychology behind a winning mentality and why we hate being told what to do is explored really well in today’s Metro online . What interests me, though, is the leadership challenge now facing Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner.

I go back to my favourite leadership model- the Action Centred Leadership Model of John Adair.

Adair breaks Leadership down to getting the balance right between Task, Team and Individual.

TASK – there may be a conflict in the mind of Vettel, as his task is to be world champion, but the team task is to win the constructor’s title. What Vettel may have been demonstrating is a lack of alignment between his personal ambition (and value) of being champion and the team task of winning the constructor’s title. Vettels’ behaviour gives a hint as to his priority.

TEAM – For Horner, he has the task of creating a united team, all pulling in the same direction. This is called Inter-Dependence. But of course, although everyone in Red Bull is united in wanting to win the constructor’s challenge, there are 2 sub teams in the pit lane, each supporting either Vettel or Mark Webber. It is hard to see how Sunday’s incident will help unite the team.

INDIVIDUAL – The third circle involves getting to know and work with the individuals. Horner has a real challenge here, because if he is not seen to deal with what happened in a fair way, he stands to lose one or both drivers. The challenge around Webber is particularly tough, as his contract is up this year, and Horner has to decide how much he wants to placate Webber. Vettel is, after all, three time world champion.

Of course, Vettel is going to need Webber (and vice versa) if he is to be champion again this year. Clearly, trust between the two has been damaged. Can it be repaired?

What price Webber taking Vettel out  at a crucial point towards the end of the season and costing his 25 points? Better keep checking those mirrors, Seb.

And the answer to my “impossible choice”? Not so impossible really, the ideal answer for me is; “I want to be in the top team, but within that team I want to be the top sales person”. I wonder what Christian Horner wants?

What do you think?