The Art of Leading

Driving in a new gear: How Danica Patrick is reinventing herself as an entrepreneur

For Danica Patrick, it was never really about the thrill of racing NASCAR or Indy cars at more than 200 miles per hour. Now that she's hung up her helmet and fire suit for her next chapter as an entrepreneur, she said she doesn't miss the track. That wasn't the point in the first place.

"For me it was about setting goals and accomplishing them," she said during our conversation on 'The Art of Leading.' "I'm a very big believer in setting goals."

She's now focused on building her portfolio of businesses: Somnium, her Napa vineyard; Warrior by Danica Patrick, her athleisure clothing line; promoting her health and fitness book, "Pretty Intense," and serving as the spokesperson for GoDaddy, which made her the face of 13 Super Bowl commercials.

It's a very different life than racing, and she's building new muscles as an entrepreneur and letting go of some old ones.

"I'm having to take more of a hands-on approach now," she said. "With racing, I drove the car, but I couldn't set it up. None of that other stuff was part of me. I had people who planned all my schedules for everything, so there very few details that I had to worry about. I just had to be sharp. I had to be present, and I had to deliver when the time came. So my switch was very on-off for the jobs that I had to do."

Her new career as an entrepreneur requires a very different approach. "I feel like I'm having to be a little more detail-oriented, and follow up and ask a lot of questions and educate myself. They're new companies and it's an important part of the process right now."

But some things don't change. Her leadership approach is the same, regardless of whether she's racing cars or designing clothes.

"It's about trying to figure out how to get people to work hard for you. Everybody's a little bit different, so you need that attentiveness from a human standpoint," she said. "It was about talking to people and building a relationship so that they want to work hard for you because they're invested in your life and the results. You can apply that approach to just about anything. You can get people to work for you out of fear, but they're not going to do their best work for you out of fear. That only comes out of love and passion and care."

What quality does she look for most when she's interviewing job candidates?

"You're always looking for confidence," she said. "When you look at them and talk to them, you feel like they can handle things. Because at the end of the day, that's why you're hiring them. You need someone to do a job for you and you can't do all of them yourself. So you want someone who doesn't need their hand held every step of the way."

And what if she could only ask somebody one question in a job interview?

"I think the most valuable question is, 'What would you do if you could do anything in the world?' I don't need the answer to be, 'Work for you.' In fact, if they answered like that, I'd probably be thinking they just want this job. If they don't have an answer, that would tell me a lot. Everyone should have an answer for that, because how else are you going to get there?"

Adam Bryant is a CNBC contributor and managing director of Merryck & Co., a senior leadership development and executive mentoring firm. A veteran journalist, Bryant interviewed more than 500 leaders for the "Corner Office" feature he created at the New York Times. Parts of this interview were edited for clarity and space.

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