The McLaren Guide To Leadership

Written by David Pullan

The McLaren Guide To Leadership

This week has seen me and McKechnie facilitating a cultural change programme for a client. It’s been an honour to watch a group of people from around the globe galvanise themselves behind such an enormous shift of mindset and really look for ways in which to change the way they do things.


The whole event has revolved around coaching, creative problem solving, leadership communication styles and team ethos. It’s an enormous event and our involvement is such that we have co-opted McKechnie’s sister to support us.


I trust that I can rely on your sympathy when I tell you that one of our core sessions followed hot on the heels of the delegates being taken to a secret venue to learn how to change the tyres on a McLaren Formula 1 car.


The winning time amongst our merry band was the threesome who clocked 4.1 seconds…but this knowledge needs to be balanced against the fact that the McLaren guys do this under pressure at trackside in a standard time of roughly 2.3 seconds.


Now there are many lessons about trust, teamwork, presence and mastery to be drawn from this exercise, but what I’d like to focus on is leadership style.


When you watch the McLaren team you see all of the qualities I mentioned, along with humility, drive, desire and purpose. These guys know what they need to achieve and they know how they are expected to achieve it. They are expected to win and they are expected to do it as one team. From Jenson Button down to the person who cleans the floors back at headquarters in Woking they work together in pursuit of a definite goal while operating under a strong set of core values.


These values, particularly the feeling of all for one and one for all, are so strong that any trophy is given to the whole McLaren ‘family,’ and if Button or Alonso want their own version they have to buy a copy for themselves.


My question to the McLaren team was, ‘How do they get everyone from secretary and cleaner right through to lead driver to operate in the same way?’


The answer was, ‘By having a culture that calls out ‘bad behaviour’ and a leadership that lives by those ideals, demonstrates them on a daily basis, tells powerful stories to back them up and shares the iconography.


The headquarters in Woking is totally made of glass so that everyone can see each other. There is nowhere to hide and it is imperative that the leaders are seen to be walking the floors and demonstrating the united team ethos. There are also speakers throughout the building where messages and stories from trackside are relayed so that everyone can hear that the values are being upheld. And of course there is the gleaming trophy cabinet at the centre.


This week have a think about how much you are emulating this formula as a leader. Are you walking the walk and talking the talk? Are you visible to the team? Are you sharing the praise and telling the stories? Are you displaying the prizes to everyone involved?


As a side issue I should point out that McKechnie’s sister was part of the winning team, but we kept that quiet. The trainer winning at a team building exercise is a worse crime than beating your client at golf.


  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'