The Surprising Reason That NASCAR Is Like Business

Leadership Lesson 1: Broadening Your Vision

And no, it is not because each win is accompanied by bottles of champagne

Whether or not you watch NASCAR, you are probably familiar with some of the sport’s biggest names. Hall of Fame stars like Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon helped propel NASCAR into its current position as America’s second-most watched sport. Today, household names like Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick help keep the sport relevant as drivers white-knuckle their way through left turn after left turn.

But there is one surprising thing you may not know about these celebrity drivers: they are not the most important people on their racing teams. And, no, it is not the pit crew, either!

The most important member of a NASCAR team is the spotter. Each NASCAR driver has his or her own spotter watching from the top of the grandstand. Unlike drivers, spotters are able to see the whole race track, and can “spot” opportunities and challenges that the drivers will have to face. Aware of what lies ahead, a spotter coaches the driver through the turns of a NASCAR race.

So, how does this relate to your organization?

An average corporate leader is like a NASCAR driver without a spotter. Able to only see the cars nearby, the average leader has just moments to respond to changes in racing conditions. An average leader is always responding to changes rather than anticipating them.

A great leader, on the other hand, serves as his or her own spotter. Sometimes, you must get out of the cockpit and find a space high up in the grandstand, from which you can view the whole race. After all, knowing what lies ahead can mean the difference between a champagne-laden celebration and a fiery crash.

In business terms, this means staying focused on large-scale opportunities and challenges, rather than merely “putting out fires” or focusing solely on production. Such opportunities and challenges include, but are not limited to:

  1. Monitoring company and industry trends
  2. Integrating new technologies or systems
  3. Adopting new products or services

Take a minute to think about your leadership style. How often are you merely “driving”? How often are you seeing your organization’s situation from the grandstand and “spotting” obstacles ahead?

THE TAKEAWAY: If you feel that you are not in the grandstand enough, now could be the perfect time to leave some of the driving to a trusted colleague and start leading your company with a view of the whole race track.

Happy spotting to you. Just be sure not to drop a sandwich off the grandstand!