We all recognise the need to get recruitment decisions right. Right?
We’re all aware of the negative impact the wrong hire can have on a business. The cost. The delay. The effect on performance. Yes?
We all endeavour to implement evidence-based recruitment and assessment techniques to improve our chances of recruiting the right person for the right job. Sure?
And we all appreciate the importance of having the right leader in place to shape the direction of the business, motivate staff and make key strategic decisions. Damn straight!
So why is it that when it comes to recruiting leaders, many organisations do not utilise the same recruitment tools they use when recruiting employees?
Why is it that, so often, leaders are selected according to their track record? Or according to who they know? The old boy network. The right school tie.
It’s an old-fashioned approach that can have troubling consequences. Because hiring the wrong leader for your business is far worse than hiring the wrong admin assistant, or the wrong HR manager. It can have a far-reaching and destructive effect.
We’ve all, most likely, worked with someone who was a bully, or a narcissist or was promoted above their competency level. In Adrian Furnham’s fascinating book ‘Backstabbers and Bullies: How to cope with the dark side of people at work’, he gives numerous examples of the damage done to businesses and people by a poor or malign leader.
I have witnessed a number of situations when a new CEO has joined a business only to have a seriously negative effect. Even toxic.
On one occasion, the new CEO’s leadership style turned an empowered and engaged culture to one of command and control, causing demotivation and stagnation. On another, the CEO’s cautious approach impacted badly on the business’ ability to innovate.
In these cases the CEO got the job through their connections. They were not assessed in the way that employees across the rest of the organisation were assessed.
But if they had been, their abilities, style and approach might have been flagged as a potential risk for that business.
How leaders are recruited
Organisations tend to rely on headhunters to track down leadership candidates.
But while some organisations assess leadership candidates to ensure their suitability for the role, many take the word of headhunting firms and an internal panel interview with a presentation as the most assessment they’ll do. No further objective assessments. Why?
Perhaps recruiters are nervous that they’ll put people off if they make them jump through the same hoops everyone else does.
Perhaps the executive board reckon that these leaders have proven their abilities elsewhere and that’s good enough. Indeed, headhunters place a lot of emphasis on track record and, I’m sure, work hard to find the best in the field – but who knows if they were being ‘moved on’ with a golden handshake?
All personality types have a dark side
Under duress, we all have a tendency to go to the dark side of our personality. Cautious types end up unable to make a decision, while bold types might tend toward arrogance or become dominating, even intimidating.
Given how stressful a leadership position can be, understanding how a candidate might behave under stress before hiring is vital.
Plus it’s true to say that those characteristics we might specifically look for in a leader are those very traits which can be extremely damaging when they turn to the dark side.
For instance, the good side of self-confidence (a trait all leaders need) is that you’re willing to fight for what you believe in, you hold yourself accountable, you make an impact on others.
But the dark side of self-confidence is that you dominate others, you’re unwilling to give up in a fight, you blame others for mistakes, you avoid strategic-thinking.
One of the tools I use in leadership assessment is the Hogan Development Survey, otherwise known as the Dark Side model. It measures 11 personality traits to identify how someone will respond under pressure and what type of things might trigger an extreme response.
Used alongside other more general personality tests, you can really get a good understanding of how a candidate’s individual personality make-up will impact on their ability to lead.
Some personality types are better suited for one job more than another, or one industry more than another
For instance, a risk-taking approach might be all well and good for a tech company where pushing the boundaries, being out there and unafraid to fail is the secret of success.
But this style of leadership would not be appropriate for a financial organisation which requires more caution, more due diligence and cross-checking. (One might even argue that the global financial crash might have been prevented if there’d been more risk-averse people been in charge at the banks!)
Personality-type assessments help to identify the candidate’s leadership style so executive boards can decide whether they’re the right fit for the business.
I’m sure you can all think of someone who had a change of leader at the top of their organisation who brought chaos with them and started to divide and conquer. Perhaps they were lucky and the leader was uncovered for who they were before they did any real damage? Or perhaps they got out? One thing’s for sure – the changes they bring may not always be for the better, staff turnover will increase and profits will dip. Is that what you want for your business?
I’d be interested to hear your stories of maverick leaders!