I’ve just watched the Malaysian Grand Prix, which was interesting for all the wrong reasons. The winner, 3-times world champion Sebastian Vettel, took victory after disobeying a direct order from his team to stay behind team-mate (and eventual runner-up) Mark Webber.

He apologised after the race, saying he had made ‘a mistake’, but given that he had AMPLE laps in which to drop back behind his team mate (and didn’t) I’m not sure that in his heart, he wouldn’t do exactly the same thing again. He is a racing driver. It’s in his DNA to do everything he can to win, and he’s very good at it.

What Vettel didn’t consider during those few frantic laps on the race track were short-term versus long term goals. He achieved his short-term goal of winning the race. This is turn should contribute to his longer-term goal of being crowned World Champion. Indeed, he is paid by Red Bull to deliver a World Championship… but at any cost? His actions on track damaged trust between him and his managers. It has almost certainly ruined any good-will with his team mate. This very public conflict of interest is also damaging to the Red Bull and Formula 1 brands.

Long term, he may have done more harm than good. His team can withhold technology upgrades; his team can hold him back in the pits to allow Webber to make a clean pass; his mechanics and sponsors may not be so quick to trust him; and of course….he has to secure a drive after next year.

Every business wants leaders like Vettel: people who are world-class, decisive, driven, dedicated and single-minded in the race to be the best. However, there is a BIG difference between doing the right thing and doing things right. I can’t argue with Vettel’s desire to win, and the fact that he saw an opportunity and took it. What I can argue with is the very selfish way in which he did it.

Businesses need to tread the fine line between empowering their talent to build the business, whilst taking the team with them to ensure success is built on firm foundations. No leader should ever think themselves more important than the team. Afterall, it is the team that does the work, turning vision into action and results. Competence models may not be fashionable these days, often being considered too rigid. Creating a framework that defines ‘how we do things round here’ that is considered just as important as targets is surely the way to sustainable business, and a very real way in which HR departments can contribute to commercial success. Lets get back to basics and find out what works and embed it into everything we do until it forms the DNA of what defines your organisations success.

Sheridan Webb

Keystone Development – Training Consultancy and Bespoke Design