top of page
  • Sam Decker

High-Speed Leadership: Get Traction from Balance

Imagine four very small "contact patches" – not much larger than your hand – holding your one-ton car to the road. The texture of the road (concrete, asphalt, gravel, dry, wet, etc.), temperature, weather, the degree of the turn, and the camber (slope) of the road are out of your control. All that's in your control are the tires you chose and how you balance the weight transfer of the car loaded on to the tires. Managing all these factors to push the limits of grip at high speed is tricky.

Metaphorically speaking, managing balance in a car is similar to keeping a company "on track" during a high-growth phase.

Balance in Driving and Business

CEOs of fast-growing companies often confide that operations seem "out of control" or chaotic. They juggle numerous initiatives, new products, markets, and regions. They navigate a hundred details at low and high levels, across a spectrum of short and long-term requirements. And have functional leaders that have to work together on all of this.

Vision is crucial; it serves as a north star, guiding everyone and helping them manage their roles without constant oversight. In driving, looking ahead keeps the body anticipating the right inputs to stay on track. Similarly, in business, a clear vision keeps the organization aligned and focused.

Balance, however, is equally important. In a car, a high-performance driver manages the inputs (gas pedal, steering wheel, brake) in a coordinated dance to manage the load to the tire patches on the road. For example, turning hard while applying the gas pedal can overwhelm a single front outside tire, losing grip. Instead, braking in a straight line maximizes the use of the two front contact patches, while balancing the car front to rear in a corner maximizes all four contact patches.

contact patches smooth input racing
Balancing the car between tire contact patches determines your grip

Most spinouts occur when a race car is still in a turn (with the weight transfer to the side) and the accelerator is applied too fast, too early. This overloads the outside back wheel, causing a loss of grip. To avoid this, drivers "feather" the throttle, gradually applying pressure until the car has finished its turn and is straight enough to handle maximum torque. The Navy SEALs' adage, "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast," perfectly encapsulates this approach.

Moving Together = Balance in a Company = Traction & Speed

In a fast-growing company, change is constant. It feels like direction shifts, akin to pivots or sudden accelerations. In these moments, the company gains maximum traction – progress and impact – when leaders maintain a balance, ensuring the entire organization moves together.

Anecdote from Dell

At Dell, I was responsible for the consumer customer-centricity strategy. Turning a $7B ship toward the customer required all functions to be balanced. For instance, if our policies were ahead of our IT capabilities, we’d never make progress. Over two months, I conducted a "capabilities" audit, mapping the alignment of IT, marketing, customer service, sales, and finance. This audit revealed gaps, primarily with IT lagging. By closing these gaps, we re-prioritized our roadmap to achieve a balanced, customer-centric organization.

Turning a company, like turning a car, only works when the whole organization moves together. Functional leaders operating at different speeds or with diverging agendas create chaos.

Practical Tips to Get Balance

Traction in a company means aligning to the same vision, goals, problems, and initiatives. Leaders must communicate clearly and frequently, ensuring everyone understands expectations and how to achieve them together. This involves regular 1x1s, operational meetings, and using metrics to measure progress. Tools like "red, yellow, green" scorecards help track team alignment and capability forecasts.

When an organization maximizes its "contact patches," each leader, team, and individual feels engaged, empowered, clear, and confident – even in the midst of rapid changes. In a startup or fast-growing company, it often feels like navigating a series of hairpin turns, but with balance and vision, it can be managed smoothly and effectively.


bottom of page