Elite Performance from the First Woman to Qualify to Drive a World Rally Car | A Q&A with Penny Mallory
When we first met Penny, her story was captivating from the moment she started until she finished. To reach the top of Rally Driving, not only from starting out at the bottom, with zero experience, contacts and money, and in a male-dominated environment, required Penny to develop elite performance mindset.
We're quite fortunate in a sense Penny now shares her experiences and lessons with businesses to drive elite performance across teams, and individuals too. In fact, we were also left with many questions, so we sat down to probe a little deeper and unpick some extra details to help us all reach our full potential.
How did the corporate speaking begin?
When I was driving rally cars, I was asked to speak at a conference - I said no, but was persuaded. Someone in that audience asked me to speak at another event, and again that happened, and again... I am still speaking at events!
Tell us a little about how you became involved in rally driving
When I was about 6 I saw some Rally Driving on TV and let myself dream about what it would be like to be a rally driver when I grew up. I must have parked it up in my mind, because years later it surfaced again. But by the time Rallying was back on my mind, a lot had changed in my life. I had left home at 14 and stayed in homeless hotels, and was in a terrible mess emotionally. I hit rock bottom. It's not unusual for people in this situation to make a dramatic decision - and I did too!
I decided life WAS worth living after all, and that I would pursue my dream of being a rally driver as I had nothing left to lose. I had no money, no contacts and no experience, so I called a rallyschool and booked a course. I paid for it out of my overdraft.
That day at rally school changed my life completely. I got hooked, obsessed even, and everything in my life took a back seat as I became fixated on becoming a champion rally driver. I borrowed a huge amount of money from the bank (I lied to them about what I needed it for) and set about learning to be the best I could be.
I secured a sponsor quite quickly, and with that sponsorship in place I was able to get my own car, begin training and enter rallies.
12 years later I became the first woman in the world to compete in a World Rally Car in the World Rally Championship for the Ford Rally team!
Your website tells us you are descended from the first explorer to scale Everest – how has this shaped your story?
Apparently I am a descendant of George Mallory who was the first man to conquer Everest nearly 100 years ago. Trouble is, he died just below the summit so no one knows for sure if he was on his way up or down. (I maintain he was definitely on his way down!)
His story hadn't shaped mine in anyway, until I decided to start climbing. My first of the World's 7 summits was Elbrus. I was curious to see if I shared Mallory’s adventurous genes. I think I do. I have also climbed Kilimanjiro and a few others.
What does ‘elite performance’ mean in business?
Elite performance is really about discovering your full potential (being the best you) in sport or business…or anything really. The trouble is, most people don’t ever discover their potential because it takes a lot (too much for most people) to push through the obstacles which can appear to stand in your way.
To find your true ability and limit takes courage, resilience, passion and a load of other things, and of course you have to know what it is you are trying to achieve in the first place. And why too!
I am so passionate about helping people to find their Elite Performance, probably because I am a classic example of someone who, years ago, thought so poorly of myself but when I found rallying my whole approach and attitude changed.
I would have tried anything to improve my performance, and I hired a coach which transformed my mental approach. Rallying was my entire world and everything I did was focused on improving my driving performance. At my peak, obstacles became easier to break through, decision clearer to make and problematic easier to manage. A lot of performance boils down to passion because if you are not committed or particularly interested in the goal you will struggle to dig deep to get through the pain of the tough times!
In business the same rules apply. It's all about understanding what you are trying to achieve (and why) and if you are a leader, building a great team of followers. If those people who voluntarily choose togo where you are going are as excited and enthused as you, they will give blood sweat and tears to help you to build your vision of the future that doesn’t yet exist.
How does the way we think help to expand human potential?
Everything we think has an impact on the way we behave. Think dark thoughts and your mood will be dark and your behaviour will reflect that. When you have positive and exciting thoughts your mood and behaviour will be energise and enthusiastic.
Your potential cannot be reached if you think negatively, focusing on what might go wrong and what might stand in your way. You are effectively blocking your own path with thoughts that prevent any form of increased performance. So, human potential can only be expanded when our thoughts are helpful, useful and positive!
What are the similarities between elite performance in business and in sport?
The similarities are endless. Look behind the scenes of any elite sports person and you will see the they achieve ‘mastery’ through the aggregation of a series of mundane acts. It’s quite dull really! They continually repeat actions (with increasing levels of ‘stretch’) until they become ‘habit’ or part of they life.
Golfers, swimmers, footballers, ballerinas etc all put in thousands of hours of practice. And when they fail or fall, they pick themselves up and go again. They have a level of passion and resilience that is astounding; they won’t be beaten.
Add onto the hours of repetition and you’ll see that they experiment, take risks, innovate and try any new idea to achieve any marginal gain. Some things work, some things don’t. But they are not deterred by things that don’t go their way - they look elsewhere for new ideas and keep going. They are relentless in the pursuit of their goal.
Most people don’t push through the pain of achieving mastery, because they are not fully committed to achieving the desired outcome.
The commercial world is tough, with huge pressure and stress. But the winners are the ones that push through; they are mentally tough. The courageous, confident and bold in business are the ones that see opportunities and grab them. The best leaders look after their staff, and enthuse them with their vision and the journey ahead. I don’t know of any sports or business person who enjoyed huge all on their own. It takes a team of enthusiastic, focused and committed followers to get great results!
Which event has been your favourite and why?
I love every single job I do - because everyone is so different, but if I am honest my favorite events are when I meet extraordinary people who re-inspire me
What can a typical corporate audience learn from your experiences?
That they are missing out on using the incredible ability they have - their potential is so huge and they don’t even realise it.
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