Leadership Lessons from Rick Hendrick

Billed as a question and answer session with 2 NASCAR Hall of Famers, a 15 minute session at the NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day turned into a master class in leadership from car owner Rick Hendrick. Poised alongside fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin, the two swapped laughs and stories, but embedded in their dialogue were deep leadership lessons that give you a glimpse into how Hendrick became a success.

Here are 3 key takeaways on Hendrick’s leadership:

Leaders learn from everyone

Hendrick’s success is built on being willing to learn from everyone and seeing in everyone the individual and diverse contributions they make. From Tim Richmond, who drove for Hendrick from 1986-2987, Hendrick took the lesson to enjoy the success. Hendrick recalls a meaningful lesson from Dale Earnhardt Sr., who raced for him in what is now the Xfinity Series. Earnhardt Sr. gave Hendrick the insightful racing advice, “A lot of people are fast. They just don’t know how to race.” In Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick sees a man with a “terrific heart.” In Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson Hendrick sees a commitment to working out and intense focus. He also saw how Martin and Johnson challenged each other to improve.

Great leaders value individuals for their unique contributions and realize there is something to learn from everyone. Leaders don’t have all the answers.

Leaders measure success by more than metrics

Sports and business are both driven by metrics – wins, championships, sales, stock price. However, there is always an element to success that can’t be measured. An X factor.

In one of the most poignant moments of the question and answer session, Hendrick turns to Martin, who drove for him from 2009-2011, and says, “You made us better.” Hendrick is an undeniable NASCAR success with 12 Cup Series championships, 245 wins, and more still to come. Martin contributed to Hendrick 5 wins. But Hendrick didn’t turn to Martin and say you won us 5 races. Hendrick understood that the most significant contributions Martin made to the team couldn’t be put into a trophy case or counted in a win column. Martin’s most significant contribution was that he helped the team improve, leaving an impact that could be felt even after he left the team.

Leaders don’t ask; they inspire

“I learned [from Rick] that you can get so much out of people without asking for it. Rick gives you the tools and he doesn’t ask a whole lot of you and it’s up to you to perform,” Martin said of Hendrick’s leadership.

Leaders don’t have to tell people what to do. They get people to believe in the vision. The commitment and success follows.

Hendrick has vision. He saw the future in multicar teams long before they became the standard. He saw the potential in a young driver named Jeff Gordon and that changed how the sport viewed young talent. When you drive for Hendrick you know that you’re being given the opportunity because he sees that you fit his vision. Hendrick doesn’t have to ask his teams to succeed, they’re already inspired to succeed because of Hendrick’s vision.


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