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Blog Post - A Risk Worth Taking

Have you ever tried to lead people who didn’t want you to be there in the first place? That’s what happened to Peter Schutz. He was in Europe about the time that Porsche took a serious financial dip. Dr. Porsche met with Peter and offered him the job of president of his famous company. This good news for Peter was seen as bad news by the Porsche senior leadership team. “I can’t believe the new president of Porsche is an American!” was the prevailing attitude.

At Peter’s first “let’s get down to business” meeting, he felt this strong attitude of resistance. Peter had already proven himself as a leader, but this was different. Yet, he knew this sacred rule: “people do things for their reasons, not ours”. So he had a plan. Peter knew that Porsche had a history of pride in their automobiles, their company, and their people. And he knew that a great deal of that pride was expressed in the international racing world where Porsche had led the pack and taken the prize for years. But, as of late, the winner’s circle had eluded them. So Peter’s opening to his team was a question, “How do you think we’re going to do in the race this year?”

The only answer was silence, shuffling feet, and staring at shoes— not a word was spoken. He continued, “I’ll take that reply as not being very hopeful.” Then he asked the team a second question, “What do you think it would take for us to win?” The shoe staring and feet shuffling became even more dramatic. “Well, I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I want you to come to me by a week from today with answers to my question. Meeting adjourned.”

Peter knew he was taking a huge risk, and, though he looked perfectly calm on the outside, he told me his emotional richter scale was about nine on the inside. This was his first day on the job, and so far the team’s resentment of him seemed impenetrable.

Nothing happened for three or four days, and Peter’s tension was getting higher. He was asking himself, “Will anyone come forward? Have I blown this great opportunity before I even get started?”

The next day, one person came in, his head still down, and told Peter that there was a prototype body of a racecar stored in one of the warehouses. That was a start. Then, someone else mentioned an experimental engine that was being tinkered with in R&D. A few other hints were dropped about possible auto parts that might make up a real racecar. The team even began talking to Peter, but with little emotion and even less commitment. The attitude was “Yeah, we can enter the race, and we might do okay, but that’s as far as we’re willing to promise.”

Want to venture a guess as to how this story ended? If you said they won, you’re correct! Porsche did win that all-important race. The next year, they won first and third, and the year after that, they won first, second and third. The pride was back, the morale improved, and profits rolled in. Peter was a hero; his risk had paid off.

This success story hinged on a leader’s courage to risk his job, his reputation, and his pride by putting it all on the line to let his followers know that he cared and that he meant business.

Peter brought out the best in people by asking them to reinvent, recreate and restore a great brand to its former greatness. That was his job. That’s not only good business, it’s a noble cause. Leaders who risk and stretch themselves while giving others an opportunity to do the same will always find people who will follow them— not because they have to, but because they want to.

Choose to be a leader who helps people find the “nobility” in the work they do. It’s a worthy risk with a likely worthwhile return.

Post by Jim Leslie - Leadership 3P
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