The following article is a great parallel at this point in time where leadership is paramount.
Reprinted with kind permission of the author Benjamin Carrell of Talkmotorsport.
The famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is set deep in the beautiful forested Ardennes region of southeast Belgium. It is steeped in motorsport history and hosts one of a handful of must-see Formula One Grand Prix. It is also set in an area which was the scene of one of the fiercest battles of World War 2, the Battle of the Bulge. It was a counter-offensive by the retreating German forces in an attempt to push the Allied line back to the coast and to retake the Belgium port of Antwerp. It lasted a horrid 41 days between 16 December 1944 through to 25 January 1945.
The American World War II series ‘Band of Brothers’ dramatised the history of ‘Easy Company’ from the 2nd Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, with its participation in the D-Day landings through to the end of the war.
One episode called ‘The Breaking Point’, takes place as Easy Company look to take over the cross-roads at the town of Foy in Belgium. If you head up the road from Bastogne to Spa-Francorchamp, you will head through Foy on the edge of the wooded forest. Unless you know of its history, it is just another ordinary Belgium village although you can still see the impact of stray shells from the battle on many of the old remaining buildings.
The episode examines and questions the actions of 1st Lieutenant Norman Dike, the Company’s commander. Men from Easy Company lose their lives because of Dike, who is often ‘missing’ in action, and in the heat of the battle is unable to lead his men and to make critical decisions.
He is eventually relieved by 1st Lieutenant Ronald Speirs, who becomes the Company’s new leader. Foy is eventually re-taken by Easy Company and the rest is history.
Leadership is always called for in a time of crisis and today we see this more than ever. World leaders are on the stage and they have either stepped up or are missing in action.
Two leaders that stand out are our own NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. You don’t have to agree with her politics and party but Ardern’s leadership in the last two months through the uncharted waters of the Covid-19 crisis has been superb. She has led a nation through a very important lockdown period. She has shown confidence in her decisions and the way ahead, has regularly fronted to the media, listened to the public and has been prepared to make some uncomfortably hard decisions in leading the way ahead.
Look to the US and Andrew Cuomo has been an inspiration in a deep crisis that has hit New York the hardest so far. Search his name on YouTube and watch one of his daily press conferences and see the man in action. His leadership is one of being calm and consistent in a crisis, giving those around him confidence and direction for the way ahead while having empathy and understanding for those in need.
The opposite is the President of the US. As we expect, Trump’s message is inconsistent and erratic. He plays the blame-game, using the Covid-19 crisis as a platform for politicking, lacks decisive leadership and decision making and hence is unable to galvanise the American people behind him. Contradict him and you run the risk of being fired. Well, that’s what it looks from the outside.
Here at home we have our own crisis within MotorSport New Zealand. In a nut-shell we have a decision and instructions by the Board to sell their major asset, MotorSport House, at what appears to be under valuation.
As a result, a much respected chairman of the MSNZ Historic Commission resigns citing disappointment and dissatisfaction with the direction Motorsport management is taking.
Twenty-seven clubs (nearly a third of all MSNZ clubs) sign a letter asking for a thorough explanation and review of the sale of MotorSport House which appears to be unconstitutional.
The CEO of MSNZ signs a letter regarding these concerns raised by the 27 clubs. He cites a ‘gagging’ order from the president of MSNZ and the disarray that the sale has caused. In the end he expresses having no-confidence in the president and sides with the 27 clubs. Effectively, the CEO has written his own resignation.
The response, later that evening, from the president (effectively from the Board of MSNZ) is not even to acknowledge this, rather to state that there is a staff restructure underway.
Can the president of MSNZ remain in ‘office’? No, it is time for the president to step aside. Whether the CEO is right or wrong, a lack of confidence has been publicly expressed. It is no longer a case of whether the president is right or wrong, or whether they are a good person or not. That position is no longer tenable. If the current CEO is eventually replaced, would the new appointment have confidence in the current president?
My observation of MotorSport New Zealand as a governing body over the last decade is that they have had managers, and not leaders. The handling of the V8 SuperTourers debacle/crisis was poorly managed when it required a leader to step up. None were to be found and we are still paying in many ways for this oversight.
In this crisis, the CEO has expressed that the president has been missing in action and not in communication with him. No leader is to be found.
As with Easy Company at the crossroads outside the town of Foy, true leaders step up while managers flounder. If you find yourself with a love for history and heading for Spa, take a look around the Ardenne region full of ordinary Belgium villages where men were led to overcome the battles they faced.