This week, for a new project, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk leadership with Rick Hendrick at his headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a wonderful day, and I came away with something that I want to share with you, because I think it will be of tremendous value.
Now, if you don’t know Rick, that’s okay. He’s a good friend, and in addition to being a successful businessman, he also happens to be a phenomenal leader. In fact, Rick is such a great leader that he’s able to maintain two entirely separate massive enterprises: Rick Hendrick Automotive Group, which comprises his 120 car dealerships across the southern United States, and Hendrick Motorsports, which is made up of his various car racing teams.
Both of those accomplishments are amazing in and of themselves. But Rick isn’t the kind of leader who’s happy with being just a business owner; he is committed to excellence in everything he does. And that’s why his NASCAR racing teams alone have won 11 championships, including a record-setting five championships in a row by driver Jimmie Johnson. Rick’s drive to be the best translates into a vision that goes across all of his organizations and produces astounding results.
As you can imagine, the opportunity to sit down with Rick and talk about leadership was something I couldn’t pass up!
For our conversation, Rick brought along one of his NASCAR drivers, a very sharp young man named Chase Elliott. If you’re a NASCAR fan, you’ve probably heard his name – he currently leads all rookies in points towards the Rookie of the Year award, and he’s done very well in many of his races. Even though he’s still looking for his first win, after just a few hours with Chase, I knew it wasn’t a question of IF he’d get a win, but WHEN.
The reason why I feel so confident about Chase getting a win is because of his perspective. Now, he’s a young man – just 20 years old – and he’s following in some gigantic footsteps. Chase took over Hendrick Motorsports’ 24 car, which was previously driven by the legendary Jeff Gordon. Chase’s father happens to be Bill Elliott, who is also a legendary NASCAR driver. Everywhere Chase looks, he’s surrounded by people who have achieved success at the highest levels of his profession.
He could feel overwhelmed. Or he could assume that he’s somehow entitled to success. But he’s done neither of those things. Instead, Chase has the mindset that all great leaders have: he wants to learn to be great.
In fact, he said something during our time together that just struck me. It was such a fantastic leadership statement that I immediately told him I was going to take it and use it. (And I am!) As we were talking about the preparation he does for each race, Chase explained how much he studies what other drivers do. He described the hours of film he watches, the conversations he has, the ways that he constantly seeks out information that might make him better, make him sharper. And then he said this:
“After all, you create your own luck.”
I love that phrase. It’s such a leadership concept. You create your own luck. You don’t just wait around, hoping someone will open a door for you. You don’t just sit back and hope for good things to come your way. Hope is not a strategy, and waiting is not always winning. Good leaders, the best leaders, are constantly looking for an edge. They are learning whatever they can, in order to gain new insights, hear fresh perspectives, and see new opportunities.
There’s a quote, often attributed to the Roman writer Seneca the Younger, that reads, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” What Chase has learned at such a young age is that leaders like Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon and Bill Elliott have a lot of things to teach him. They have a lot of wisdom that Chase can use in preparing to take advantage of opportunities when they come along.
The same is true for you. You are surrounded by people who have something to teach you. You have leaders with wisdom to share and peers who have great insights from experience. Take advantage of what they know. Buy them a cup of coffee, and then ask them questions. Be intentional about getting to the heart of what people know.
Because when you intentionally chase wisdom and insight from others, you begin to create your own luck. As you learn and grow, you begin to see opportunities you would have otherwise missed. Not just to advance your own agenda, but also to add value to others, who will in turn add value to you. This is what separates average leaders from good leaders. And consistently living this way is what helps turn good leaders into great ones.
As poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” When you make the choice to intentionally learn from others around you, you can help create the luck you need to do the things you dream of doing.