Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff has shed light on his management style, how his team handles internal conflicts and disruptive characters, and offers tips for success in a new video.
Mercedes has won a lot in the last few seasons, but also had its fair share of internal conflict, not least in the era of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as team-mates.
Speaking to Vinod Kumar, CEO of Tata Communications, Wolff explained that creating an environment where honest discussions can take place has helped tackle one of the biggest problems senior personnel can face; conflict within the team.
“Neuroscience shows us that if there is disagreement, your brain goes into combat mode,” said Wolff.
“Disagreement means that the immediate reaction is ‘I don’t like it’.
“What we try to achieve rather than going into combat mode – and therefore closing up – is approaching is other person with respect, being curious about why somebody might have a different view, and then being brutally honest in the conversations you’re having about it.
“The chassis group might have a different view on performance than the engine group, and there needs to be a protocol, and fundamentally in our team the protocol is lap time.
“For example, the engine could have ten horsepower more, but will have ten kilograms more in weight or have more volume.
“The chassis people will say, I appreciate the ten horsepower, but the volume [increase] is going to cost us more aerodynamic performance.
“You need to be able to provide a safe environment, and we created a motto within the team in order to discover all of our weaknesses, that is ‘see it, say it, fix it’.
“You need to achieve a safe environment where people dare to point at their own shortcomings and mistakes.
“If the leaders are able to admit their own shortcomings, suddenly you create that culture where everybody is able to admit that next time around you can do it better.
“You mustn’t blame the person, you blame the problem.”
Wolff explained that ensuring employees are comfortable with where they work was essential to gaining trust extracting their best performances.
“Only in an environment of confidence where people are empowered and trust you, you can extract the best performance of them and you can only do that if they feel safe.
“You’re having a laugh with your people and immediately the easiness kicks into the room.
“There’s even a management style about making a joke about yourself at the beginning of a tough meeting. It releases the tension.”
Wolff went on to discuss the motivating factors for wanting to be successful which, for him, was due to the early responsibility he had as a child.
“In my case I lost my father when I was very young and I was raised by my mother and there wasn’t any background [knowledge], and from my earliest memories I was pushed into a role of taking responsibility for the family.
“Not great for a child obviously but certainly a big contributor and a driver in my motivation.”
He added that he believed the most successful people aren’t necessarily the ones who are high achievers at an early age.
“I have this theory of ‘early peakers’. My personal experience is that many of the very successful kids I have met when I was a kid – be it in school or be it in sports – didn’t achieve extraordinary careers afterwards.
“Often the support network you need in order to achieve this result is parents that are very pushy.
“I think long term if you want to be successful then the ambition needs to come from within you. It cannot come from somebody else who pushes you into things.
“You see teenagers that are somehow exhausted by the ambition that is projected into them by their parents.
“The overcompensation of the lack of success from the parents into the kids, and I don’t think this is the right way, it should be support, the ambition needs to come from within the kids.”
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