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A white-knuckle ride in an Indy car yielded some valuable insights about learning from others and embracing change

The speed was overwhelming, unlike anything I’d ever experienced on four wheels. The acceleration felt like warp speed on the Starship Enterprise. Pasted back on the headrest, my helmet-clad noggin had no chance of shifting its position.

The sound of the engine resonated deep in my chest and my inner ears. The scream of the 12,000 RPMs was deafening. Hearing it on TV is one thing; sitting trackside is another, and actually being inside this rocket ship was almost too close—too dangerous. 

The danger-fuelled adrenaline rush was out of this world, though. All I could do was laugh and yell at the top of my lungs.

Movement was out of the question. I was strapped in by a multi-point harness with my helmet clamped to my shoulder straps, to prevent my neck from snapping due to a violent sideways movement. I’d been lowered into the open cockpit like a body being placed into a snug-fitting coffin. And if things went wrong, this could very well end up being my coffin. I had to trust the expertise of the professional driver in front of me…

I was taking the ride of a lifetime in a tandem Indy car.

Hurtling along in this cramped cylinder, inches off the track—propelled by a 700-horsepower, 2,200-CC, 32-valve, dual-overhead-cam, V6 turbocharged engine capable of 378 kilometres per hour—was unforgettable.  

What a rush!

After picking up great speed down the straightaway, we reached the first corner at a velocity I thought was unsustainable. We had to slow down, or it was curtains—we weren’t going to make it out of this turn.

And then it happened: I was overcome by the most G-force I had ever felt. We sucked around that corner like a high-speed roller coaster on rails. Wow, that was a paradigm shift! I had never cornered in a land-based vehicle like that in my life. What was once impossible in my mind now became possible. 

I like this!

So what are the leadership lessons from this Indy car episode?

Well, no matter where you are as a leader, you can always benefit from the input of someone with more expertise than you. There’s no way I could have driven that car the way the pro driver did. We all need someone to help take us up to speed and see what we can do with the right tools.

I don’t care how capable you think you are; there’s always more learning if you choose to live within a community of leadership. That’s one of the benefits of being part of a peer advisory council: tips from your fellow drivers.

The other lesson is about knowing the capability of your people, and yourself, for change. Cornering in a vehicle is a metaphor for change. We’ve all heard the old adage that the only constant in life is change, and we need to embrace that in life and in business. Our ability to change quickly, efficiently and effectively can be a key advantage for our organization and for us as leaders.

How well can you corner? Do you approach change like a 1970s Volkswagen van in a windstorm? Slow that baby right down, take it easy, don’t get carried away, or you’re going to blow out of the race. Hey, if that’s where you or your organization is at, fine, but figure out what you must do to corner faster. Unless, of course, you want to be left back in the ’70s.

If we can’t corner quickly—implement change effectively and efficiently—we’re at a distinct disadvantage to our rivals. Wise driver and leaders push their team’s ability to embrace change, constantly fine-tuning it to create a competitive advantage.

It can be a thrilling ride.

David MacLean empowers CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives to dare greatly in his role as chair of The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada. David also writes and speaks on Wholehearted Leadership: inspiring, encouraging and equipping leaders to harness their most valuable asset—their HEART. You can reach him at david@wholeheartedleaders.com