Would you have the courage to argue with your boss? To question their methods or query an order? I did… and it paid off!
Moral Courage: The courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences. Courage is required to take action when one has doubts or fears about the consequences. Moral courage therefore involves deliberation or careful thought.
The Le Mans 24 Hour race is quite possibly the most famous motorsport event in the world. The heritage, prestige and publicity is only rivaled by the Daytona equivalent or the Monaco Grand Prix. It is a BIG race.
Me and some colleagues were there supporting various teams along the pitlane when my boss called me to his garage. He had a task for me. He wanted the engineer’s laptops to be updated to the latest software version.
Now in and of itself, this is not a particularly strange request. New software was frequently created and it fixed bugs and offered new features, all of which is generally very favourable for engineers in motorsport. However this particular request came at 10am on race day. Just 2 hours before the lights were due to go out. So, I questioned it.
I raised my concerns with my boss, but was dismissed on the grounds of “its new, its better”. Still uneasy, I asked some colleagues. They all agreed that an update of all of the engineers' laptops this close to the race was asking for trouble and should not be done. Finally, I spoke with the engineers. I received a resounding “No way!” from them. So as far as I was concerned, it was settled.
I went back to my boss and explained that no one thought this was a good idea and I was not comfortable being the guy who broke the engineer’s laptops for Le Mans. I refused to do it. I did compromise and offer to update the assistant engineers’ laptops – my boss wasn’t happy with this but I left him little choice. He decided that he would do the engineers’ laptops, and I could do the assistant engineers’ ones. And so we set off.
Laptop 1 – Wrong operating system. New software simply won’t install. FAIL.
Laptop 2 – Correct operating system, but out of date drivers. Software installs but doesn’t run. FAIL
Laptop 3 – Correct operating system and correct drivers. Software installs and runs. Existing settings for the software are all lost and render the laptop unusable for the race. FAIL.
Fortunately, the engineer’s had pushed back again against my boss and refused to let him install on their laptops. I reverted the laptops I had touched and left the garage.
The team ran absolutely fine for 24 hours without any laptop issues. The old software was flawless and they finished the 24 hours.
This anecdote might seem like I am insubordinate or defiant. Disobedient even! But I am not. I just like to know why I am doing something and like to be aware of the repercussions of my actions. Had I not questioned the course of action, the software would have become a serious sticking point for the team. They would have been at a disadvantage and not been able to react to issues quickly.
If you have the confidence and genuine concerns, never be afraid to question those above you in the hierarchy. A good manager will welcome CONSTRUCTIVE criticism and be prepared to explain the reason behind a course of action. If they listen to your concerns, you might even show them an area they had not considered and be the hero of the day.
Motorsport is won and lost by tenths of seconds – if you have time, help your team to find them!
Tom is an engineer working his way through the motorsport industry, sharing stories, anecdotes and lessons to help new engineers coming through the ranks.