When determination is mission focused

I’ve made no secret that my favorite F1 team is Williams Grand Prix Engineering, led by Sir Frank Williams and his daughter Claire.  But I want to dive into why I like them, especially when I could put a sweet Ferrari sticker on Lively and everyone would recognize it.  It’s their focus on the mission. Williams has no points this season.  In perspective, they are the second most successful team in Formula 1. This might be the first time in forty years that they don’t score points in a season, it’s a big deal.  They are being laughed at across the world, on the interwubs people are cracking horrible jokes, and the sad part is that Williams doesn’t air their dirty laundry, so no one knows what is really going on.

Recently, Claire Williams gave a podcast and described some of the behind the scenes going on, and this is the determination I admire.  Williams exists only for F1.  Their engineering sister company was founded to help that.  They don’t make money selling energy drinks or luxury cars or Italian supercars.  They don’t make much, and any of those previous could and would buy them out.  For Williams, The entire process of the entire company is to win the next race, so they can invest the money to win the race after that, and so on.  Or at least, that’s how they started.  Apparently, people who work there sometimes don’t watch the racing, which is not the desired investment.  They are in it for a paycheck, and not for a mission.

So here’s where I talk about positive determination.  Williams could have sold out.  They could give up.  But instead, they have recognized that people have lost sight of the mission and are working to change the atmosphere to get the focus back there.  In these modern times when the emphasis often is to modernize and change, Williams reverted back to what got them there in the first place.

I have experienced something very much like this in my career, except the mission was lost at the top.  Yes, my leader changed the core mission from “winning races” to something else.  And it sent a lot of the workforce into a spiral, a hugely negative spiral.  I am speaking for me and those who share their stories with mine.  Eventually, the leader recognized it and tried to fix it… By doubling down on what started the downward spiral in the first place.  And I will quote, “What got us here won’t get us there.”

In fairness, there’s a lot of nuances there that you won’t understand, but the real point in the urge to modernize and change, the organization lost the objective.  And instead of refocusing on the objective, changed it.  Now, what is the reason for being?

I link these two stories because on the one side, an organization is brave enough to change so that it can focus on the task, and the other organization is changing to actively divert from the main task.  One will succeed and the other will not.  I often quote the apocryphal story about a president visiting NASA during the space race.  He stopped a janitor who was sweeping and asked him what he was doing.  The janitor responded, “I’m  putting a man on the moon, sir!”  That is a workforce who is all in.

Now, if you have an hour, listen to Claire talk about all this.  Keep in mind she’s running a business that bears her name and is roundly mocked and dismissed by other teams and fans and journalists alike. But she’s not giving up, and isn’t afraid to challenge the company to continue with her.

Of course, she gets it from her parents, and I have written about Sir Frank before and he and his wife’s determination to live.  He’s the longest surviving tetraplegic, did you know?  He’s in a wheelchair, I’m in a wheelchair, he’s Catholic, I’m Catholic, he’s super rich and successful, I’m super rich with friends and blessings, he doesn’t know who I am, I’m a huge fan of his, etc. You get the point!  There was a beautiful moment when the world champion took Sir Frank out on a hot lap, his first in a long time, and the mutual respect was palpable.  Even though his team is at the bottom.

Anyway, at this weekend’s British Grand Prix, they were at the back, but they didn’t double down on stupid.  They started dead last, and then at least one of them finished in front of a Ferrari.  They are being laughed at, but they are pushing forward bit by bit to make improvements, and just by showing up they are proving that they are improving, little by little.  And that is determination I admire.

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