Tragedy haunts the winner’s circle

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Sir Frank Williams began building race cars more than 30 years ago and won his first world championship in 1979. Since then, he’s won eight more world championships, and his drivers have clinched the Drivers World Championship seven times.

But has Williams simply moved from one happy winner’s circle to another? Hardly. His entire career has been tinged with tragedy. For example:
  • In 1970, Piers Courage, Williams’ early partner and closest friend, burned to death in a Williams race car.
  • In 1994, Ayrton Senna, one of the greatest drivers of all time, died in a Williams car.
  • In 1999, Alex Zanardi, another Williams driver, lost both legs in a horrific accident.
Williams himself is confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed since 1986 from a highway driving accident. Yet, he arrives at work every day and manages his company in a forceful, hands-on way. How does he keep ongoing despite setbacks that would stop a less driven man? Here are his leadership lessons:

1. Build success on a keen understanding of your team and its skills. Williams knows exactly what assets—and weaknesses—each driver brings to his team.

2. Stay hungry. Despite his many championships and a personal fortune, Williams is not satisfied, especially now that he hasn’t won a championship in seven years. “It’s a source of embarrassment,” he says.

3. Stand up, and start fighting again when they knock you down. When Williams awoke, paralyzed, in the hospital after his accident, he told his wife: “I’ve had 40 fantastic years of one life. Now, I shall have another 40 years of a different kind of life.”

— Adapted from “The Importance of Being Frank,”Adam Cooper, Road & Track.

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