Quick question, think fast; who is your hero? I said quick, not trick since it’s an unexpected question that can so easily throw the person you’re asking (did you give an answer instantly?) and I’m amazed it’s not more obviously employed to screen potential employees. The answer can be far more telling about a person’s work ethic than ten carefully prepared (and let’s face it, anticipated), responses to the standard type of questions: ‘Why do you want to work here?’ or ‘Where do you see yourself ten years from now?’ Perhaps any answer someone might give is too loosely open to interpretation, but in my opinion, potential employers are missing a trick because the results can be fascinating. Let me explain…
This weekend saw a particularly exciting conclusion to the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Malaysia. Formula 1 itself is a sport that conjures up more than its fair share of glamour, dedication, and competitive ethos – both on and off the track. It has been valued at an eye watering £5.7 billion and is one of the fastest growing spectator sports in the world. With that in mind, the stakes are high for individual teams such as Williams and Ferrari, who, like all the others, rely on heavy sponsorship to fund increasing running costs. There is also no shortage of controversy, which we saw yesterday as the winning cars crossed the finishing line. They say that no man is an island and nowhere is that more true than in Formula 1. Just getting one of their £4 million cars onto the track requires a gargantuan team effort, employing the services of a group of engineers more academically qualified than those who sent the space shuttle into orbit. Then there’s the Team management, PR, media, and advertising executives, not to mention those responsible for the sheer logistical effort needed at the end of a race to up sticks and shift some of the most valuable technology and personnel across the globe. All in one piece, and in time for the next race.
And of course there’s the driver himself. Some might say the spearhead behind the team’s thrust – this is where it gets interesting. Formula 1 drivers are an enigma; not least because in order to get where they are, they have to have proven themselves in the little leagues as capable of individual driving skill that surpass all others before being entrusted to operate as part of a multi-million pound team. This is a lot to ask. A footballer, cricketer, or other team sportsperson is so obviously incapable of working without the other team members. Wayne Rooney, (whatever your opinion of him) once on the field, would be unable to beat even a fourth division side on his own. Whereas a Formula 1 driver once on the track is required to take on all other twenty three cars whilst still being directed by his management over the radio. Working as both an individual and a team player, as we saw in Malaysia at the weekend, can cause conflict. Less than fourteen laps from the end, and with the final pit stop complete, Team Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were all set to comfortably take one and two on the podium respectively. The team directors clearly thought the same, and not wanting to risk a catastrophic crash that would see both drivers out of the running (not to mention damage to the cars), ordered both drivers to hold their position until the end of the race. Sebastian Vettal’s skill as a driver is without question, but his impetuousness is at odds with Webbers maturity. For reasons best known to himself he chose to ignore those orders and pushed to overtake his teammate. What followed was either a fierce or unseemly battle (depending on whom you agree with), until finally Webber succumbed and Vettel, against what he was told, was first to cross the finish line.
Hollywood loves a loner. The loose cannon who defies the odds and does not play well with others but gets the job done. Entertaining, sure, but in the real world are such people detrimental to how an organisation operates? They also say no person is bigger than the team, but conversely, by ensuring individuals toe the line do we suppress raw talent that everyone in the team may benefit from?
After the race, opinion was split as to whether Vettel should have done what he did. In the same way an individual is tasked with making money for a company Vettel is employed to drive a car faster than anyone else. In doing so, however, he failed to comply with the team direction and employing such people can set a dangerous precedent. When we look for our next employee are we looking for Vettel, Webber, or a combination of both? Perhaps the answer tells you more about your company than the person you’re employing, since it’s fair to say very often we look for somebody who is a reflection of what we represent.
Either way, next time that person is sat in front of you, consider asking them who their hero is. It doesn’t have to be a sportsperson or any other with such a competitive edge – there are other desirable qualities. Whoever it is, however, you’ll have plenty of time to discuss their reply once they’ve left. Depending on whether or not your immediate response is favourable it might also tell you a little about the direction your company is going.
Steven Curtis our very first guest blogger and if you think you can do the overtake, get in touch.