Elizabeth was brilliant. She was a true artist in her field. Her work was inspiring and she had ideas that were fresh and challenging. She looked like a perfect fit for a key leadership role—a very high profile position that required interfacing with constituents at all levels and areas of the organization. She was hired. Several months later, concerns and complaints started to be voiced to senior leaders. Elizabeth was often aloof and inflexible. She was moody and reclusive. The leaders, too, were concerned having had similar experiences. A coach was brought in to help Elizabeth, but after several months, Elizabeth resigned in frustration.
While Elizabeth accomplished many positive things during her tenure, she didn’t live up to what the organization had hoped for and the relational damage she caused took many months to repair. Whose fault was this? That’s hard to determine, but the organization could have done a better job qualifying Elizabeth for this position. But how?
Revisiting Part I
In Part I of this series I shared a question that was recently asked of me: “What are the key things I should know about people before they start working for me?” The question is critical if you want to develop highly successful and effective teams of leaders at any and all levels in your organization. You want the best people working with more of the best people! The problem is, how do you assess candidates to see whether they are the best fit for your organization.
The philosophy I am holding to in answering that question is that it is better to train and develop leaders who are already an 80% match to your needs than someone who is only a 20% match. The 80%-ers are already top leaders. In fact, there’s a good chance you don’t need to worry about filling in the last 20%; they will cover much of that ground on their own. On the other hand, if you’ve got someone who starts out as a 20% match, moving them 60 points on the “fit continuum” to get to 80% is a tough battle! So the question is, how do you find the 80%-ers?
In Part II of this series, this article, I share some of the possible areas you want to assess. You’ll see that it isn’t practical to assess any given candidate in all of the dimensions I present here in Part II and others in Part III. You’ll have to carefully consider which are most pertinent in your situation. However, in Part IV, I will make an argument for some high priority assessments.
I asked for input from readers in Part I. I wanted to find out what you thought should be assessed when qualifying leadership candidates. All of the ideas I received will be presented; some in this article and some in Part III. The list below focuses on more elusive assessment dimensions: values, character, chemistry, and wisdom. Part III will focus on dimensions that are more concretely measured: emotional intelligence, relational preferences, skills, and others.
What is important to this person and why? Values are what drives a person’s thoughts and actions. What a person truly holds dear in their heart governs what they say and do. There is an old saying that you can find out what’s really important to someone by examining how they spend their time and their money. To a large extent I agree and I’ve created a ruckus on more than one occasion when I’ve said, “It’s impossible to act contrary to your actual values.”
Measuring and identifying values is not a simple task, though. There are values surveys and tools to help people identify their values. Usually, in a recruiting or interviewing process, we resort to asking candidates to describe their values. In my experience, these self-report statements are rarely accurate. It’s not that people are lying—they honestly don’t understand their actual values and they are describing their aspired values. As a leader, though, it is important to distinguish between other’s actual and aspired values and to determine whether they align with your organization’s values.
(By the way, a topic closely related to values is one’s passions. For a very good discusison of this, see Robert’s article “Love & Good At.”)
The assessment of character has become a hot topic in the recent past. Thanks to the moral failings of many business people, politicians, and ministry leaders (the people our culture used to look up to), we are considering the role of character in leaders and followers alike. A person’s character is the core qualities that define how a person conducts himself privately and when interacting with others.
Like values, character is also difficult to assess. While there are some character assessment surveys, it will be some time before researchers confirm the reliability of these tools or develop new tools we can trust. Other ways to assess character include the testimony of others and personal experience. It is a bit of a paradox that what is perhaps the most important element to assess may also be the most elusive to assess.
Does the person fit in? If you have to choose between two people of equal experience, skill, education, character, etc., but one has good chemistry with the team and the other does not, your choice is obvious. However, your decision is very different if you have to choose between one candidate that fits in but doesn’t have solid credentials and a second person with great credentials and not a chemistry fit. What do you do then?
How do you assess chemistry? The best way to find out if a person fits in is first-hand experience. I once worked on a team to hire a new president. One of the things we did was to bring the top candidate and his wife into town for a few days. One of the biggest priorities for this visit was to assess chemistry. To discern chemistry there were various gatherings with a wide variety of groups in the organization. In that case, we determined that the chemistry was great.
More recently, I was at a function in an organization during which a candidate for a mid-level leadership position was brought in for the “chemistry test.” I was introduced to “Joe” and his wife. With me were three of the people Joe would be leading in his role. After the pleasantries, Joe lost eye contact with us and looked off in another direction while his wife engaged us in conversation. After that brief, awkward exchange, I continued to watch how Joe worked the room (or didn’t, actually). Long story short: Joe failed the chemistry test. I spoke with one of the leaders about my experience. He reported that Joe looked great on paper and did well in the interview process, but I was not the only one to report bad chemistry. He didn’t get the job.
Recently, my colleague, Greg, argued for the need to measure wisdom in the recruitment process. He stated, “A holistic approach to assessment would not only measure knowledge and skills, but would also measure wisdom …” For more, read his article “The Problem with Competency-based Assessments.” I’ve seen many definitions of wisdom, but I describe it as “the correct application of knowledge.”
I’m sure you know several people who are absolutely brilliant about a given topic (or perhaps several topics). However, among that pool of people, there are two subgroups: those who know how to apply that knowledge and those who don’t. Discerning the difference between these two, the wise and the clueless, can be difficult because we are so often impressed with knowledge. Ask a question and out pours a plethora of information. It can be an awe-inspiring experience. However, is that person wise enough to apply that knowledge correctly when the pertinent situation arises? You may never know until the opportunity to test that wisdom comes.
As you can imagine, each of these can be difficult to assess. I don’t have any “silver-bullet” questions for you to ask in interviews to uncover the truth regarding values, character, chemistry, or wisdom. However, I have worked with a number of clients to develop processes to discern values. If you’re interested in learning more, drop me a note and we’ll discuss your needs. I would like to hear from you, though. What are your ideas for assessing candidates’ values, character, chemistry, and wisdom?
In Part III, I will take a look at strengths and talents, personality type, relational style, and more. Please keep sending your ideas and questions on this topic!