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Leadership Transformation

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Drivers, start your engines! NASCAR is defined by speed, adrenaline, and heart pumping action as cars zoom around the track at speeds up to 220 miles per hour. It is apparent why over six million people tune in to these races across the country. Although most of the glory goes to the winning driver, the entire crew is what makes these victories possible. As an intern for a company that works for NASCAR I have seen many different leadership skills and techniques that are applied throughout the industry. As a company and industry it has been able to grow and develop using these skills. Transformational leadership is the motivation, morale, and performance of followers through a variety of techniques. The best way to achieve transformational leadership in NASCAR is teamwork. Teamwork is essential in a business with so many varying elements; a driver needs a pit crew, vehicle engineers, a crew chief, and many other behind-the-scenes team members. But it takes much more than just the crew members for a racing team to be successful. The key to high performance in this industry is finding a racing team that has positive norms, cohesion, and innovation. One way to develop a high performance team is to look at the business as an open system. This means that the entire industry of NASCAR can only sustain itself by interacting with its environments and each team should view itself this way as well. NASCAR crews must be aware that their environment is constantly affecting the elements of racing. With new technologies, cars have evolved and crews need to be able to keep up with the ever expanding technologies that are available. These teams need to be innovative with their engineering not only to make faster cars, but also safer cars. New technology has given NASCAR teams incredible capabilities with not only the cars, but every aspect of the race. Teams are able to communicate with the driver during a race more easily, pit stops are unbelievably efficient, and even the gear the drivers wear is constantly being updated to be safer. It is very important that teams in this business are aware of their changing environments or else they could be left in the dust. The industry as a whole must continue to adapt to the changes in the environment as an open system to remain successful. When NASCAR began in 1947 it was a completely different business that what it is today and its innovation is what has given it its competitive advantage. Spectators continue to attend races in record numbers because it has adapted to their needs. NASCAR realized that with technology they could bring fans closer to the sport than ever before. In-car cameras and even cell phones allow enthusiasts to watch and hear their favorite drivers and their pit crews in action. This gives fans an outlook on the sport that they might have never seen in any sport before (Baxter, 2007). These brilliant innovations make it clear that NASCAR knows how to keep its fans on the edge of their seats, even if they are not attending the actual race. This is one business that is definitely aware of the changes in the environments around them and knows how to take advantage of these changes. Of course innovation isn’t the only thing that will get a NASCAR team to the top. A team’s attitudes will directly affect their level of performance. If a driver is joining a new racing team, the crew chief attempts to set positive norms for the new group. Unfortunately, if one person in the team, especially the driver, begins expressing negative behaviors then the crew chief’s efforts may never get off the ground. If positive norms such as arriving to all meetings on time and being fully committed to the team are rejected by an individual of the crew, then the norms begin to fall apart. Once norms are diminished, team cohesion suffers greatly. The lack of effort exerted by the driver will result in the pit crew being less willing to work with him or her and therefore performance will drop drastically. Cohesion among teammates is essential and is directly related to the overall performance of a group. However if a crew chief establishes positive norms and the team is willing to follow and learn from them, it will result largely in high performance. In the case of Dale Earnhardt Jr., he left his family run racing team after a drought in victories to join Rick Hendrick’s crew. After the death of his father, his stepmother took over the racing team that had been in the family for generations and Earnhardt knew that the changes she had made were not ones that he wanted to be a part of. Although this may have initially caused him to lose some of his diehard fans, who thought he was betraying his family’s racing legacy, Earnhardt was looking for a team with positive norms and he found it. Hendrick made it clear to his team that excuses were unacceptable and integrity is a key factor within his crew. With Hendrick’s help and the cohesion and cooperation of the whole crew, Earnhardt is now back in the lead with multiple wins and higher popularity than ever (Clarke, 2007). This just shows how negative norms can split a family business and cohesion can revive a champion. Driver Ryan Newman has also switched racing teams in order to find a crew with chemistry. Newman started his career with Penske Racing and here he won the Daytona 500 in 2008. But other than this victory, Newman did not have very much success with his team and decided that he wanted to go to a different crew. After leaving Penske Racing, Newman joined the Stewart-Haas team with crew chief Tony Gibson. Here he found the characteristics in a team that he was looking for, good communication, teamwork, an understanding of attitudes, and confidence in each other. With all these characteristics working together, the cohesion and backbone of the team was stronger than ever. Along with positive norms, Newman’s commitment and dedication to the sport and his team led him to win the Sprint Cup in 2010, his first victory in two years. The support and cohesion of his team is what pulled out all the stops and made his victory possible. Of course, cohesion among teammates does not occur instantly, but strong relationships between drivers and pit crews are essential to gaining success in NASCAR. It takes crew members’ full commitment to the team and requires each part of the group to have an open mind and willingness to learn from each other. Teambuilding techniques are one way to bring a team closer and create positive relationships. Constructive norms help bring teams together because they set standards that the whole team needs to abide by and this sets them apart from other crews. Team events not just related to racing are also a big way for crew members to bond and come together. Even something as casual as a team poker night can add to the success of a racing crew. This time away from the track gives the team a perspective that makes them unique from other groups and this in turn motivates members to stay together and fully commit their efforts to the crew.

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