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Alex Kihurani Alex Kihurani (left) and a Rallying mishap (right). Photos courtesy Alex Kihurani.

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How taking 53 days off a year to focus on rallying broke my poor leadership habits
Alex Kihurani looks at how rallying turned his perception of leadership upside down. The full article can be found on Alex's blog - link below.
By Alex Kihurani
Published on June 12, 2018
Alex's Blog - “Beyond Work/Life Balance”

Late in 2013, I transferred from the Philadelphia office of my employer, Ernst & Young (EY) to London as a way to maintain my professional career while developing my career in rallying.

In my first full year in Europe, in 2014, I used just about every day of vacation to compete in the European Rally Championship with a young, promising driver. By 2015, however, he ran out of money, and I instead shifted my focus to pushing through my Manager promotion at EY, before I was diagnosed with a (fortunately treatable) form of leukaemia. Upon returning to full health, I asked for a fairly lucrative flexible working arrangement - a 10% pay cut for 26 extra days off a year that would start in January 2016, post-promotion, for me to make my triumphant return to international rallying.

By 2016, I had been rallying for 13 years, and now I finally lived in the right country, made the right wage, had the right amount of free time, and had the right amount of experience to realize my potential. Not only that, I was fully recovered, fully fit, and well ... still alive. At this point, my delayed success felt like destiny.

However, the narrative I created with my (however well-justified) sense of entitlement was about to be turned completely on its head. My beloved sport has a cruel way of making a figurative expression morph into something frighteningly, dangerously, and cruelly literal.

By April, my rally season was literally destroyed, so I looked to right whatever consequences at work were waiting for me as a result of prioritizing rallying over my job after months of competing nearly every week.

"Alex, were you thinking of going up early for Senior Manager next year?" asked one my Directors.

I was caught off-guard. It never even crossed my mind with my priority having been rallying from the start of the year. However, with the time off needed to compete, I could no longer be as hands-on. I had to give other members of the team some share of the responsibility in each of my roles, many of which I felt were easier to do myself or I felt differentiated myself. As a result, I had to support the development of my team, and I felt heavily indebted to them for delivering on my behalf while I was off playing in the woods trying to chase some childhood dream.

I felt the only way I could keep the team together was to focus fully on the needs and motivations of each member of the team and give them the best skills, support, and publicity to help them achieve their aspirations. I wanted to make myself redundant to the more junior members of my team rather than justify my own existence. I wanted everyone to know how spectacular the team was as demonstrated by their ability to deliver in my absence.

Somewhat unintentionally, I had moved from heroic leadership habits to post-heroic leadership habits. As a fairly new, growing analytics team, we didn't need a singular hero. Above all, we didn't need too much knowledge within the team wrapped up in one person's head, especially when said head is upside down in some trees every other weekend.

Despite overwhelmingly and spectacularly failing in what I initially intended, it helped me to understand how a “fail fast” mentality and culture can work outside of software development. If you’d like to read more in detail, see my full blog post on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/elaborate-scheme-go-rallying-backfires-alex-kihurani-cisa

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