Motor racing has fascinated me since boyhood. (Many years ago I even raced an Alfa Romeo myself – albeit not very successfully!)
In particular I’ve followed Formula One – especially the longest lasting F1 team, Ferrari, which I’ve followed since the days of Chris Amon and Jacky Ickx.
Being one of the “Tifosi” meant that I’ve despaired about the team’s misfortunes over the last few years. Since the glory days of Michael Schumacher, with team bosses Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and the South African designer Rory Byrne, Ferrari was on a downward spiral, with their last World Championship more than a decade ago, in 2007 with Kimi Raikkonen.
Since the advent of the hybrid era, Ferrari seemed to be an also-ran. Until 2018, when all of a sudden they had a competitive car and looked like a winning team.
For a while.
Then the wheels came off and Sebastian Vettel looked startled and out-of-sorts, making all sorts of (for him) silly mistakes. The team’s strategists seemed to fumble from one blunder to the next and Ferrari eventually had to settle for second best.
How are Ferrari’s F1 woes relevant to aviation? The answer is: Leadership.
As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the “Miracle on the Hudson” landing – where Captain Sully Sullenberger’s leadership skills were as much on display as were his flying skills – the captain’s duty to build a team around him is pertinent.
On reading Will Buxton’s opinion piece about Mauritzio Arrivabene’s demise, one has to draw some parallels to the airline captain’s responsibility for ensuring a successful and safe team.
“Arrivabene’s rule by fear fractured his team and ultimately failed his employers” rings true to many failed leadership issues in aviation as well.
What is it that sets good leaders apart from the also-rans?
There are many academic definitions and as many popular quotes from people like Richard Branson, Alan Mulally (Boeing GM for the B777 project and later CEO of the Ford Company) among others.
On analysis, two words pop up repeatedly: Trust and Respect. Two attributes which Ferrari’s Arrivabene could not claim – and it cost him the prized position after four seasons.
Speaking about Just Culture Job Brüggen, safety officer at LVNL and co-chair of the Eurocontrol Safety Team put it this way:
Everyone wants to be good,
but if people feel the atmosphere could be tending to “blame and shame”,
they become less interested in being good –
they just want to look good.
When people simply cover their own backsides and avoid taking responsibility – look to the leader for the reason.
“The walls, both physical and metaphorical, were quick to go up around the team. But far from creating a safe environment in which the once mighty outfit could rebuild, it appeared that what was being built was a system built on the fear of failure”. This was what Arrivabene did to the once proud Prancing Horse.
The lesson here is simple. To lead implies a two-way agreement – someone leads and others follow. But if the “leader” fails to gain the followers’ trust and respect, he or she can lead all they want – no one will follow.
Is it any surprise that some “leaders” sooner or later find themselves out on their own, without any actual support? Arrivabene learnt this lesson the hard way.
Hopefully Mattia Binotto, the new Team Principal, will know that leadership demands much more than the position and the authority. It demands an attitude – something special, which allows people to follow the vision of their leader.
Hopefully the Scuderia will benefit and become winners again.