This continues a dinner conversation I had with Peter Schutz several years ago.
“How is it possible, as a manager, to operate like a dictator,” he asked. “The crew in the pit, in the midst of a race at Le Mans, could operate like a dictatorship, heated in the moment, because they had spent months planning democratically.”
“Execute like a dictatorship, plan like a democracy,” he continued. “The problem in business, is that most managers get this exactly backward.”
“To execute flawlessly (like a dictator) requires a planning process to support it. And this planning process must be created under a very different form of government, a democracy.” Peter acknowledged democracy is slow, requires participation, accommodation, discussion with divergent points of view, but it is absolutely necessary.
If you get this reversed and plan like a dictator, you will experience execution like a democracy, with much discussion (grumbling), divergent points of view and resistance.
“Hey, you! They didn’t care who I was.” Peter explained. I was talking with Peter Schutz, former CEO of Porsche (1980-1988) about car racing. Peter’s stories always had a point.
Standing in the pit, as the car came in for fuel and tires, there was no pleasant conversation. All energy was focused on the flawless execution of the fundamentals. They had mere seconds to get the race-car out of the pit and back on to the track.
“Can you imagine,” Peter explained, “what would have happened, if the guy working on the left rear tire had pulled the wheel, set it on the ground and then started a conversation. -You know guys, I have been thinking about a few things that I would like to bring up to the group.-”
Peter continued to explain that winning the race depended on the dynamics of a rather stern dictatorship. “How is that possible on a management team?” Peter asked. The answer was simple.
Unpacking from my recent move, I found some old notes from a dinner with Peter Schutz. Peter was the CEO of Porsche from 1980-1988. He helped me kick off one of my executive groups in 1996. Peter passed away in 2017, but he was a person you never forget.
At our dinner he talked about the difference between the democratic process and a dictatorship in a management team. As CEO of Porsche, Peter attended many of the automobile races where Porsche had an entry. Le Mans was his favorite. He loved to visit the pit area, but even as CEO, if he got in the way or his assistance was needed to grab a tire or a wrench, the orders were barked and by golly, he complied. He didn’t just comply. He enthusiastically grabbed the tire and delivered it port-side to the car, and just in time, because there weren’t any seconds to waste.
Was the action in the pit a democracy or a dictatorship?