I’m going to be honest with you—one of my favorite people in leadership is the incredible Rick Hendrick. Rick, known as Mr. H. to his people, is the owner of Hendrick Automotive Group—an organization of close to 100 car dealerships across the United States. If you were to drive onto the lot of any Hendrick Automotive store and you would immediately be struck by its cleanliness, friendliness, and exceptional customer service.
That’s because Mr. H deeply believes in the value of servant leadership; of having men and women all across his organization who are willing to value the person in front of them through meeting and exceeding their expectations. In fact, servant leadership is one of Hendrick Automotive’s six core values:
- Teamwork through trust and respect
- Committed to customer enthusiasm
- Passion for winning
- Accountability at all levels
- Servant leadership
- Commitment to continuous improvement
We have partnered with Mr. Hendrick and his team for years now within the Automotive Group, but those same values translate over to the teams of Hendrick Motorsports, which include Mr. Hendrick’s four different NASCAR racing teams, including such past champions and legends as Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and now the latest champion in Chase Elliott.
For most fans of the sport, and to anyone who follows leadership, Chase’s championship was simply a matter of time.
That’s because Chase grew up in the NASCAR spotlight thanks to his father, Hall of Fame racer Bill Elliott. Fans of the sport watched Chase grow up through the ranks of racing, seeing in real time how his natural talents were strong. Chase was pegged early for greatness, and when he signed with Hendrick Motorsports, joining the teams of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., those natural talents were soon brought under the intentionality of Hendrick values and discipline.
So it was only a matter of time before Chase followed in his father’s footsteps in raising the NASCAR cup. Bill won his only championship in 1984.
What I love about this story is that I saw the groundwork for it back in 2016 when I traveled to the Hendrick Motorsports headquarters for an interview with Mr. Hendrick and Chase. At the time, he was still new to the team, but he was openly grateful for the investment that Mr. H was making in him, not just as a driver, but as a leader and a person.
We captured the conversation and featured it as part of our GO BIG! Project (now the Mentor’s Guide to Building a Championship Team), and it is still one of my favorite interviews from that resource.
But here’s what I want you to take away from this incredible story: there are three things that all leaders need to understand when it comes to building a successful team.
1. You must partner with the right people.
One of the things I most admire about Rick Hendrick is his ability to find and work with the right partners. He chooses winners better than anyone I know, and it’s reflected not only in the outcomes of his racing teams, but in the outcomes that his car dealerships deliver as well. At the root of his partnership success is his unwillingness to compromise on his values; he holds his values at the center of all of his dealings, and he picks his partners based on those values and the alignment of the partner’s values to his own.
You cannot succeed in partnerships if they are not rooted in shared values—the moment that you can no longer share values with a partner is the moment that you need to look elsewhere. Values are the foundation for success.
2. You must be patient with your team.
Once you’ve found people who share your values and are committed to those values, you need to settle in. Success takes time, which means you must be patient with your people as a leader. Pour into them, empower them, give them opportunities to stretch and grow—and make sure that you give them an appropriate time frame in which to do it.
Chase Elliott didn’t come into the Hendrick organization with the expectation of an immediate championship; he came in to the organization with the immediate expectation of a championship. Though they sound the same, the distinction in is the timing. The first says you must win right away; the second says you must win—but there’s an allowance of time for that victory to come to life. That’s a powerful leadership lesson for anyone—set the bar high, but give your people the time and tools to clear it.
3. You must be intentional to see the payoff.
This is the most challenging of all. You’ve established values and built upon them. You’ve partnered well with people, and given them upfront expectations, time and tools for success, and now you come to the final lesson from the Hendrick/Elliott partnership: being intentional to see the payoff.
Every year that Chase didn’t win, his team went back and reflected on what could be done better for the next year. Adjustments to the crew or the cars or the way the team prepared. Improving their scouting and knowledge of other drivers and the racetracks for the coming season. Spending time learning from their other teammates about what they learned over the previous season.
The Hendrick team never rested on today’s good; they understand and intentionally practice the belief that tomorrow’s success rests on today’s growth—and so they are intentional about growing every day. Leaders, you and your team need the same level of intentionality if you want to see success.
And the success will come. Chase Elliott is now a NASCAR champion, fulfilling the promise that fans of the sport—and the Hendrick Team—have long known was there. But it took the right leader with the right values, the right team, and the right mindset to see it come to fruition.
Partnerships, Patience, Payoffs—that’s a winning formula, not matter the team.