F1 Driver Susie Wolff's 2 Most Important Traits of Success

At a LinkedIn event for staffing firm leaders last week in London, I had the rare opportunity to listen to Susie Wolff - the only woman Formula 1 race car driver in the world. Her story was inspirational, encouraging and great fun to hear. Fighting very long odds, she fought the endless challenges required to follow a pretty unusual dream.

Since this was a recruiting event, Susie’s story made it clear to all that grit, determination and fortitude are something we should seek in all of the candidates we represent.

Few have the same impossible dream as Susie but this is the same spark that drives people forward to excel in whatever their chosen craft may be. This is the candidate’s intrinsic motivator or driving force or what Mihály Csíkszentmihály refers to as a state of flow. When a job offers the candidate a chance to tap into these motivators there’s no telling where it will take him or her.

Since I train hiring managers how to interview candidates here’s what I suggest they do to find these intrinsic motivators. Start by asking candidates where they went the extra mile, where they took the initiative and what work they liked the most. Do this for every major job and major accomplishment. Soon you’ll see patterns. Sometimes the motivators are the same throughout a person’s career. Just as often they morph into something else as the person grows and develops new skills. You’ll use this insight to better match your candidates with your open jobs. Done properly you won’t need to worry about engagement, job satisfaction and motivation. Done improperly or not at all is a recipe for hiring someone to meet some short-term need, either to fill a job quickly or satisfy the candidate’s lower Maslow need.

With this as a starting point, there was still much more to learn from Susie’s experiences. To me her story begged this question I asked her, “Given that everyone on the circuit is driving equivalent cars, what’s the difference between the best drivers and the very very good ones?” The idea is the motivation and desire, while important, isn’t enough. Being able to discern the subtle differences in ability is what separates the all-stars from the first team.

Susie went on to say that excellent hand eye coordination was essential coupled with physical strength and an intense focus on the moment. But the tipping point for drivers is their ability to drive on the edge, knowing just how far they can push their cars to the limits of performance without losing control. She pointed out Lewis Hamilton as her example of that rare person who demonstrated this ability when she first started racing against him. (They were both eight years old at the time.)

As I flew home, I wondered what the equivalent tipping points were for the more prosaic jobs recruiters and hiring managers need to fill every day. Here’s what I came up with so far. I’m not sure they’re entirely correct. But they seem like a good starting point for answering this question: “What’s the difference between the absolutely best people doing this work and the very good ones?”

The Probable Tipping Points for Different Jobs

  • For creative people it’s being able to connect the unseen dots with new ways of doing or designing existing and non-existing things. It’s like thinking out of the box without knowing anything about the box.
  • For some accounting jobs it’s being able to transform numbers into reports that will help managers and executives better run their businesses. You need to understand the business to able to convert it into numbers that mean something.
  • For technical people it’s probably being able to fully understand user needs that result in elegant and useful products. Some technical managers I suspect would disagree arguing for some deeper level of technical insight never before considered. Maybe both together is the right answer.
  • For sales people it’s likely the ability to fully understand the buyer’s problems and customizing solutions that result in a win-win for both parties. I suspect this needs to be coupled with a never give up attitude .
  • For project managers it’s the ability to marshal resources and ensure project success despite the fact that the plan is in constant motion handling unforeseen challenges and changes.

Figuring out and interviewing for these performance tipping points provides hiring managers and recruiters deeper insight for better matching people with jobs.

So the next time you open up a new job requisition think about Susie Wolff. Start by asking “What does this person in this role need to accomplish in order to be considered a success?” Then ask, “What do the very best people do differently?”

Figuring this out will likely represent an important tipping point for you – the difference in hiring good people and great people.