In the mentoring work that I do with athletes I always ask them for the one word to describe what their strength is.
It has been very interesting to find a common word: Curiosity, the desire to learn or know about someone or something.
It is not a word that I would have immediately associated with high performance but on reflection it is a vital component of not just athletic development, but also professional development, particularly in the space of leadership.
Curiosity and Improved Performance
The best athletes are always seeking new avenues of improvement.
This is because they know that at the top level the two big attributes of performance, Effort (Training) and Talent, are shared by all those around them. A deep desire to find out more about themselves, and a self-awareness to know when situations can be approached differently, is what sets great athletes apart.
A perfect example of this is in the High Jump competition. Dick Fosbury, when in high school, could not jump 1.5 metres using the traditional scissor method. So he experimented with technique, eventually developing the style all high jumpers use today - the Fosbury Flop. In 1968 he took Olympic Gold and set a new record of 2.24 metres.
This isn't just a trait important in the sporting domain.
A study done by Sophie von Stumm, from Hungry Mind Lab, found that curiosity was the third pillar of academic performance, the other two being Intelligence and Effort.
In business, curiosity creates innovation and innovation is what enables growth. You just have to look at Apple Computers to see this in action, or the following quote from Albert Einstein "I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious".
Curiosity and Leadership
In my article on 'the two key factors to good leadership', the first key factor is to look after your people.
The best way to do this is to look beyond the roles they perform and find out who they are as people and what drives them to be better.
Liz Wiseman, a leadership consultant for the likes of Apple, Disney, Nike and Ebay, states that 'the biggest shift a leader can make is to move out of the mode of knowing and move into the mode of discovery or inquiry'.
A curious leader will identify drivers and strengths of those in their team to ensure the right people are doing the right things. This develops a team where motivation goes beyond the pay check and moves into a passion and purpose for the work they do.
A first step in doing this is to follow the 80/20 rule, listen 80 per cent of the time and talk only for 20 per cent, preferably spending that 20 per cent asking questions!
The path of curiosity is not a comfortable one and it takes some risk, both physical and social. However, to improve beyond hard work and talent it is a necessary path to take, and one that will be infinitely more rewarding.
The first step - start asking more questions of both those around you, and yourself, it will be eye-opening.