Maybe you just bought a struggling business. Maybe you just took over the reins of a struggling business. Either way, you need to find ways to turn disappointing results into lasting, long-term success, fast.
Especially when speed is whole point of your enterprise.
While Mercedes has won more Formula 1 championships over the past decade than any other team, a recent Nielsen and Motorsport Network survey determined McLaren is the sport's most popular team; driver Lando Norris ranked second in global fan popularity and first in every age group under 24 years old.
Which is surely one reason for this: McLaren recently announced a multiyear partnership (think sponsorship) with Google.
So how did McLaren, the second-most successful team in the sport with past championship-winning drivers like Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, and Lewis Hamilton, build such a popular -- and once again increasingly successful -- organization?
And, more to the point, how do you, as the new leader, apply your experience and skills and apply them to a new situation?
A former professional race driver, Brown founded JMI, the largest motorsport marketing agency in the world (and a five-time Inc. 5000 honoree). He joined McLaren in 2016, and was named CEO in 2018.
"The first thing I needed to do was better understand the technical side of the sport," Brown says. "Not so I could contribute technically, but so I could better understand the team's challenges so I could get them the support and resources they needed."
Even so, greater understanding of a particular aspect doesn't automatically confer wisdom and judgment. Say your business is creating a new software tool; you may understand the basics -- and challenges -- of programming, but still: As a leader, you must to be able to trust the skills and judgment of the people who do the actual coding.
"If you ask enough questions," Brown says, "and you have the right people in the room, and you're an experienced CEO, you can quickly read people almost regardless of how much you know about a topic. Experience allows you to assess the information and the person who provides it, and that allows you to decide if the issue is truly a technical issue or instead a people issue."
Either way, turning around a business requires changing direction. As Jeff Bezos says, the smartest people are willing to change their mind. A lot.
To a point.
"I definitely change my mind," Brown says. "And keep in mind you haven't changed your mind if you're undecided; I walk into plenty of meetings eager to hear what people have to say because I haven't decided."
But some decisions have lasting impact. Like settling on an overall chassis design. Or certain aerodynamic decisions. In a sport where a small change to one part of the car can create a ripple effect that affects nearly every other aspect of the car, getting it right the first time is critical.
"It's the 'a lot' part of the Bezos quote that bothers me," Brown says. "As a leader, you need to have conviction. Changing too often creates instability and unpredictability. People start to wonder. They start to lose trust in the direction you've set."
As Brown describes it, job one was to get the Formula 1 team headed in the right direction, but expansion was always in the plan. Competing in other series, including e-sports, not only helps extend the McLaren brand, it also creates development and growth opportunities for McLaren employees.
Which could naturally lead to another leadership challenge: managing the emotional highs and lows of a business where results are not only frequent but discussed and dissected by millions of people around the world.
"The people who work at McLaren," Brown says, "or who work in any sports ... they thrive on the ups and downs. The ups are exciting, but in a high-performance culture, you can't celebrate too long. The same is true for the downs; if you experience a disappointment, you need to quickly shift to assessing and analyzing and working to overcome it. That's the nature of the sport. But that's also the nature of business."
That's why Brown looks for people who are passionate -- but not emotional. Passion motivates you to work hard when results are poor. On the flip side, passion also motivates you to keep working hard to achieve even greater success when you're already succeeding.
"We have 1,000 people, and every single person plays a part in our success," Brown says. "They thrive under pressure. They thrive on teamwork. They thrive on succeeding together, not separately."
"To be a successful Formula 1 team," Brown says, "you need great drivers. Great engineers. Great sponsors. Great people in finance and HR and communications and marketing and every other aspect of the business.... Look at any successful racing team, and you'll find they excel in all those areas."
So how can you apply your skills and experience to a new business, especially if you're somewhat unfamiliar with the technical aspects of that business?
The answer, for you and for Brown, starts and stops with people.
And with your willingness to decide your happiness will come not from your success, but from seeing the people you lead succeed.
Make that decision, and the nature of the business you take over is somewhat irrelevant.
Because products or services can be great, but people are everything.