Indy 500 Races Can Be Won or Lost in the Pit. How’s Your Pit Crew Doing?

Guest Post from Glenna Crooks, PhD:

If you are a leader today you face a faster pace of change and far greater complexity than at any time in human history. As if the technical challenges, required skillsets and necessary mindsets were not enough to master, there’s more. It is likely your organization is multigenerational, multiracial, multilingual, ethnically-diverse and gender-fluid. It may cross time zones. If it is multinational, you comply with differing laws and regulations and adhere to differing cultural norms.

Add to that, your world gets more hyper-connected with each passing day.  Any, even minor, mistake you – or others on your teams – make, can create instant, major blow-back. How could it not?  After all, you face 24/7/365, always-on media, government regulators, Wall Street analysts, company shareholders, community stakeholders, critics, customers and employees, each with different – and sometimes conflicting – demands.

My work as a global strategist organizing chaos and solving problems in health care puts me in touch with extraordinary people navigating these choppy waters. I have the “up close” view that comes from long days of working, long nights of dining and long weeks of studying together in development courses. What a privilege!  I admire them all and am pleased to say none succumbed to the pressures by cutting corners or losing sight of their mission to help and to heal.

In 2005, however, I noticed a troublesome trend. Increasingly, the pressures were taking a toll.  I’d become a trusted, confidential counsel which is why, over time, more and more of them felt comfortable to share worries they’d not disclosed to others, even to spouses, coaches and counselors, and certainly not to Boards, other senior executives or employees. They were overwhelmed. They feared they were not up to facing the future successfully.  Even more, they feared their companies were destined for failure, their employees would lose jobs and the patients they served would suffer.

I don’t go looking for problems; they find me. That’s what happened here. These concerns sent me in search of solutions, and I found many. Some had worked in my own life: better fitness, Covey’s Seven Habits, active vacations and better stress management, to name a few. It seemed, however, that regardless of how necessary those approaches were, they were not sufficient. What else did they need?

In 2007, I found the answer in an unlikely place – the fashion magazine W – and from an unlikely source: Robert Downey, Jr. In an interview, he’s quoted as saying he needed a “pit crew” of people to help him live his life. He wasn’t a Model T; he was a Ferrari, so it took a pit crew to keep him on the road. 

If you are like the leaders I know, you have a good pit crew at work: good assistants, talented staff, great consultants and policies and procedures to help it all run smoothly. What became apparent in a decade of research, however, is that (except in very rare cases) virtually all leaders lacked similar support for life outside of work. That not only left them with little downtime to recover from the demands of the job, it disrupted work days with avoidable non-work commitments, obligations, events and crises. Though this had not (yet) taken a toll on their performance, it had taken a toll on them and their relationships.  

·In that case, what should a leader do? What my favorite superhero called “pit crews”, I call “networks.” I urge you to learn about yours. Explore who’s in them. Learn if an important person might be missing.  Determine whether they’re supporting you well enough and if not – especially if it’s someone you pay for services – consider making changes.

·What networks you should explore? There are six networks that support you outside of work: family, health and vitality, education and enrichment, spiritual, social and community, and home and personal affairs. And, there’s one additional; it is important because it impacts you, often without you realizing it. This is a network I call “ghosts”: the influential people from your past who shaped your life.

 
·Why is this important? It is true for everyone, but especially for leaders: when it comes to your career, the strengths and the weaknesses of every other network show up in force. Unreliable child care, doctors who keep you waiting, or a contractor that walks out on a remodeling job, for example, drain your energy and rob you of the peace of mind you need to lead well.
 
·Then, what’s next? With new insights about your own life, realize that each of your employees – and customers – are facing similar non-work support challenges. Many may not yet have the skills you’ve developed during your leadership journey. What might that mean for how you manage? For the training you provide? For company benefits? For new products and services for your market? For customer service? Please keep me posted. I’d love to hear about it.
 
Glenna Crooks, PhD was a Reagan Appointee, a Merck&Co Global Vice President and Founder of Strategic Health Policy International, Inc. With Bruce LaMont, she recently c-founded CogentSageQI, an innovative performance optimization platform built on a unique data ecosystem aligned to key performance indicators and the bottom line. She is the author of The NetworkSage: Realize Your Network Superpower.

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