Leadership: Valentino Rossi

When asked to write about ‘my favorite leader’ as my first paper to hand in for my leadership processes class I was honestly at a lost of whom to write about, what to write about or where to even begin debating who my favorite leader is. I could’ve gone the safe route and chosen great leaders of the past like Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln or even Adolf Hitler for that matter, ok maybe not the last option. I had to sit down and really think about whom is my favorite leader. I wanted to make it personal so I could relate the person on a day-to-day basis instead of admiring their leadership from through the television screen or Internet database. After much consideration upon the definition of what a leader is, as pertaining to Dubrin’s book, I have the perfect man in mind that embodies what a leader is and should be, his name is Valentino Rossi.

A few years back when I started to dabble in the world of motorcycles I happened to flip through the pages of my newly acquired Cycle World magazine and stumbled upon a picture of Valentino. His advert was for a leather suit manufacturing company, Dainese, but it was the numbers presented in the advert that lured me in. It read 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009. I put the dots together and realized that these were years in which he had won the championship for motorcycle racing, multiple championships in multiple classes no less. I began my research of his accomplishments and the list went on and on, 125cc World Champion, 250cc World Champion, the last 500cc World Champion, multiple MotoGP championships and the first man to ever win on three-different manufacturers (this will be important later on as to why he is a leader in my eyes). His reign seemed to dominate with fury in this sport in which he was undoubtedly king, or as his nickname might better suit, The Doctor is in.

Without question he simply became my icon, my muse to continue what I was doing in hopes to aspire to a mere infinitesimal level that he possessed, the hero to my young boy self you might even say. But this paper isn’t about icons or heroes, it’s about leadership and exuding qualities one might find in their leaders. This brings up the notion that winning all those championships were not accomplished alone and they weren’t done without much agony and defeat as well.

Back when he first started out at MotoGP as well as when he signed on to race for Honda HRC/Repsol he required a team of top-notch mechanics and engineers. He sourced these people out by their skills and pick them up from different teams to make his own team but there was one person, whom at the time was retired, that he was devilishly trying to get his hands on, Jeremy Burgess. This was the man he wanted on his team, that he wanted as his head engineer. They had met a few times before Jeremy retired but now Rossi was going in for the kill trying to get him to join his crew. At the end of the day, whatever Rossi had to do he did it and Jeremy was on board, thus began the dream team domination over at HRC Honda. This dynamic duo netted themselves an astonishing seven MotoGP championship titles to date. Towards the middle of 2003 season things had taken on a much more sour taste at the Honda Corporation.

Honda, and to the beliefs of many other manufacturers/riders, had instilled in them that you only won motorcycle races if you rode a Honda motorcycle. They were the dominant force and the emphasis at the corporation was mainly on the machinery. Rossi would win and win but they would discredit him and give all the praise to the machine he was atop. He believed that the rider and the team of mechanics has as much input if not more into the races than the motorcycle had. This started the downward spiral of one of the greatest racers of all times and one of the greatest manufacturers of its time.

Rossi fiend to go to a new manufacturer who respected the inputs of the rider’s more than just cold-blooded mechanical inputs and alga rhythms. He vied to be respected for his knowledge because he is at the end of the day the one racing, not the corporate heads. Eventually he did find such a manufacturer in the form of Yamaha but the downside of this was that they were the laughing stock of MotoGP if not across the whole spectrum of motorcycle racing. How can he jump ship from the dominating manufacturer of the time over to the fxxk-up of the industry? Yamaha did have one advantage over the robots at Honda, they did respect all of his inputs and to Rossi this was more than enough to sign on the dotted line, the next hardest thing was to get his crew on board.

You didn’t think he was going to do this alone did you? Convincing himself to switch manufacturers was the easy part; the hardest part is to convince his team to be as crazy as he was. Would you do it? Leave the most successful team in the championship race and move down the neighborhood to the worse possible area to call home? I wouldn’t doubt it if you were hesitant about making such a big jump and neither were his crew and crew chief, Burgess. They thought he was mad and irreconcilable, to a great measure he was! They denied his offer to take everyone at Honda and move over to Yamaha, the risk wasn’t what they wanted to take. Mind you that he was only as successful as his team, he needed these people with him and he needed to take the bull by the reigns and lead them in this decision.

Teamwork was what made this duo so voraciously dominating in the sport. Rossi led his team to win after win, championship after championship and champagne spray after champagne spray. He rode the motorcycle, told them what was wrong, what need to be recalibrated, which tires to use and how much chatter it was giving at the back tire. The crew team and Burgess took his feedback, trusting in it, made the changes he had asked for, and guess what? It works. Time and time again it worked. This is why he is the leader and this is why he needed these men to take the risk he was taking because he already knew that the switch would bring forth more success for them. After much debate back and forth, many late night calls Rossi had made to Burgess; the team followed their leader into the heat of battle and jumped ship to join Yamaha.

Of course at the start of 2004 championship campaign all the talk around town was on how much Yamaha would again fail, how Honda would once again resume its winning streak with its perfect piece of engineered machinery, the RC211V and how Valentino Rossi will be the new laughing clown of the series. The South Africa race started and ended. The new winner was not sporting the orange and black livery that the HRC machine is accustomed too but the blue and black color way of the M1, the Yamaha M1 to be correct. This sent shockwaves through the crowd at Welkom and millions around the world sat with their jaws agape to the floorboards of their houses. He’s done it. He has proven the critics; the naysayer, the press and especially the heads at Honda wrong, he might as well flipped everyone who doubted him the bird. He celebrated his win by laying his bike against the wall of the track, bent in towards ‘her’, as he would say, and just let out rumbles of laughter, he knew he’d done it.

Rossi is one crazy son of a gun for doing what he did, as well as persuading his crewmates to join in on it. After this move he continued his supremacy over MotoGP winning the title that year as well as three more. Last year was a different story and by George he did it again. This time he wanted to move shop over to Ducati, and once again he wanted his team with him. Although there wasn’t much fighting amongst him and his crewmates over the decision this time as there was with the move from Honda to Yamaha. I believe that they now see in Rossi a leader they can trust, look to for guidance and wisdom as well as a person to who can see a better future image for all of them.

He might not be Lincoln, Einstein or even King Jr. but this is what a leader is in my eyes. He exudes confidence, brilliance, and knowledge in his craft. He carries himself with charisma, his personality contagious to all around him, he sees a future in which benefits him and others around him. The risk his team took to join him was well worth it in the end, they just had to believe in his leadership and believe they did.


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