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Unexpected Hiring Lessons from CEOs

24.09.2015 20:37
Leadeship, Executive Hiring

Imagine there are 7 bright talents working in a large corporation. They are all senior vice-presidents and they are all around the same age: 42 years old. They are successful, they are alumni from the best business schools and universities, they have positive attitudes, they are conscientious about their jobs and they have integrity. If all senior vice-presidents have the same qualities, how do you make your hiring decision as CEO for the vacant CXO role?

CEOs can spell out what it takes to succeed and rise to the top of an organization. They have learned to evaluate high performers and discern the aptitudes that set the right talent apart. In other words, CEOs can recognize the x-factors required to achieve the high level of success. Interviews conducted with dozens of Executives from different backgrounds, countries and sectors, highlight six qualities that most of them share and look for when they hire. These qualities are team leadership, instrumental cleverness, avid learning, emotional wisdom, purpose acumen and cognitive agility.

1. Team Leadership: top talents are able to establish an environment of trust to give teammates a sense of connection and belonging in order to accomplish what might have initially looked impossible. Most CEOs recognize that teamwork is an essential skill to build sustainable and successful corporations, thus they look for outstanding teamplayer when they hire. To appraise the team leadership ability of the candidates, Executives ask questions such as how do you build trust in a new organization? How do you set priorities? What is the difference between a group and a team? The aim is to gauge if the candidate can trust others before they earn it; to appraise if the candidate considers the opinions and ideas of the teammates to gain an early buy-in and alignment of the team; to evaluate if the candidate is goal oriented and highlight achievements with sentences starting mainly with “We” or “I”.

2. Instrumental Cleverness: top talents get the job done and master the culture of execution. CEOs are keen to hire high-performers, who can smartly drive changes and organizational transformations. Their interrogations are for instance how can you implement an important task without consensus? How resilient are you? How do you measure success? In this case the CEO would like to know if the candidate can handle constructively conflicts and set projects in motion using efficiently the resources available to achieve the predefined goals; check if he has the ability to perform with the lack of consensus or structure; also if the candidate can distinct the top line results from the bottom line results and take reasonable risks.

3. Avid Learning: top talents have an insatiable appetite for knowledge and prioritize idea and know-how over ego and status. To a large extent, CEOs have enough humility to admit that they cannot always have the best ideas and need to learn from direct reports, employees, clients, suppliers and competitors. Consequently they hunt top talents who are passionate and very curious. The unexpected questions they ask to candidates are for example what is the last book you have read? What are you passionate about? What can you teach me today? The aim is to assess if the candidate is an eager leaner capable to challenge the company business model and current practices. Furthermore, to judge if the candidate likes experiment and can apply new skills to different job situations and challenges.

4. Emotional Wisdom: top talents have the capability to recognize their own and others people emotions. They accordingly label these feelings and empathy to guide their thinking and behaviors. Great CEOs have elaborated smart questions to estimate the emotional intelligence of the candidates and stress during the recruiting interview questions such as, what is the biggest misperception that people have about you? What is the difference between perception and misperception? The purpose of these specific queries is to find out how self-aware and honest the candidate is and if he can put on another person shoes to experience the other person perception and his or her frame of reference before acting. This is indeed a crucial skill to adapt and integrate a new organization.

5. Cognitive Agility: top talents ingeniously embrace today’s constant changes. They react with high flexibility to the emerging global trends and the horde of disruptive technologies. They solve complex problems through networking and sharing, they take rapidly high-stake decisions, they socialize and work with people from different cultures, and they are concise and crystal-clear when they communicate. CEOs value candidates who can quickly adapt. During the interview, they ask fundamental questions such as how do you handle criticism? What is the difference between a gift and a feedback? What is your measure to challenge the status quo? Thus, they assess the aptitude of candidates to harness dynamic changes in markets, to capitalize on new customer behaviors, to communicate the sense of urgency in case of unforeseen competitive moves, and to perceive change as opportunity.

6. Purpose Acumen: top talents are aware about the fact the Millennial generation is driven by nonmonetary values and seek organizations capable to set policies that allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms. CEOs therefore assess the drive and the personal mastery of the candidate in asking questions such as what is the meaning of life? On your deathbed what do you want to be remembered for? What is the most significant decision you made in the last three years? At the core, great CEOs are looking for top talents who follow a meaningful and more enduring cause than themselves. Today the right leader gives up control, avoid micromanagement and act as role model.

These six qualities that great CEOs share when they hire provide a proven pattern, a blueprint which can help you to hunt the top talents for your organization. Kindly be aware that as a great leader you should not delegate the recruiting of your direct reports and champions. Work at hiring top talents, at least 30% of your time, will considerably accelerate the success of your company. With discipline, practice and agility you can exceed your hiring’s expectations.


Guy Djopmo


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