Leadership Lessons from a Movie

Driving During Challenging Times

Have you seen the movie “The Art of Racing in the Rain?” Having watched it recently, I was struck at the relatability to leadership during trying times, and comparisons to the importance of a leader’s mindset. One of the first lessons that popped out to me was a quote that Denny, played by Milo Ventimiglia, made when discussing the driver’s vantage point. He said “In racing your car goes where your eyes go …the driver who cannot tear his gaze from the wall will in evidently meet that wall. But the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free… That driver will maintain control of his car and his destiny … He had manifested a win because he knew he needed one.”

When looking at an organization even in challenging times, where is the leader’s focus? Are they focused on fear of failure or are they looking down the road to determine what they need to envision to handle the current challenges? If they focus on the issues and panic, will they pass that on to their people who will also become panicked? Denny stated, “Panic is the driver’s worst enemy … “A transmission gear snaps, the clutch fails, the brakes go soft from overheating …. The poor driver will crash, the average driver will quit, but the great driver will drive through the problem. …. The great driver finds a way to keep racing. A true champion can accomplish things a normal person would consider impossible.”

Leadership’s communication plays a decisive role during difficult times and it is paramount to working through challenges. During hard time, internal communications, driven by the leader, must be developed to support and build trust with your people. It is important to provide a candid assessment of the current situation. To support your people during challenging times you need to have frequent and honest communication not only about the difficulties but providing a clear picture of the future and the role they can play in it. Leaders need to focus on the steps they are taking to overcome the issues facing the organization. Anxiety is often overwhelming during challenging times, so much like a race car driver, the leader needs to look down the road and focus on what needs to occur now. It is difficult for people to feel secure in times of uncertainty and rumors run rampant. Your people also need to know you appreciate their effort during these tough times, and this is also important to hang on to your top performers.

Leaders need to find better ways to communicate during these times and email is not the best option. Use as many communication channels as possible including face-to-face. There should be avenues for your people to ask questions and receive honest answers. Even if a leader does not know, he or she needs to be able to communicate that in a manner that allow people to know that the leader will let them know when information becomes available. 

Use this as an opportunity to build on the strengths of your organization and use your people as part of the solution. By focusing on the future and building steps to achieving it, you can work through issues while minimizing negative impacts. As stated in the movie when Denny talked about driving in the rain …” The risk has paid off… The driver has the courage to create his own conditions then the rain is simply rain.”

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