A few years ago, I worked with a tech start-up. The company had developed a set of core values that were compelling and differentiated from its competitors. In the beginning, the company was extremely attentive to every new leader it hired into the organization. The research firm they worked with would do in-depth assessments. Candidates would have numerous interviews with potential colleagues. It was not uncommon for a candidate to pass 10 to 15 interviews. I thought this sounded overkill when I first heard of the practice. However, the new leaders I worked with all emphasized how valuable the process was because when they joined the company they felt like they had been a part of the company forever. They said it got them started in their new roles.
This company realized that every new hire, especially those hired in managerial positions, really mattered in the beginning. They were getting ready to accelerate growth and couldn’t afford to take any missteps along the way. Their values were fundamental to them, so they had subjected the candidates to several interviews to assess their cultural suitability. To me, this is a great example of getting it right and being aware of who you are putting in a leadership role.
However, after a few years, the company was not as attentive as it had been when it started. Growth continued to accelerate. Managers were under pressure to fill the many vacancies; they started to take shortcuts. Speed was the priority now. Hiring for the fit culture was left out. Over time, ugly behavior emerged. Things started to happen that the company had never experienced before: leaders who intimidated and belittled others or who displayed a lack of collegiality. This problem kept coming back. Basically, it was about leaders and their misaligned leadership behavior. Always strong employee morale and commitment began to decline.
This story has an important lesson for us as leaders: to be aware of who we place in leadership roles. If we don’t do it right, the costs can be significant.
A 2015 survey of more than 2,000 CFOs found that not all of the costs of a bad hire may be financial. Most CFOs worried about declining staff morale and declining productivity. A bad hiring decision has costs for any role, but when it comes to a leadership role, the costs are exponentially higher. Moreover, these costs are not only financial, but also cultural in nature.
Sometimes an organization experiences hyper-growth, like the organization described above. As a result, he has to hire a lot of new talent to keep pace. The pace is so hectic that the checks and balances usually put in place when hiring new leaders are abandoned. Alternatively, you might have weak leaders who are not engaged in the responsibility of leadership by hiring brilliant morons, without paying attention to the culture or expectations of leadership.
Whatever the reason, it is essential to be mindful when giving people leadership roles. Of course, it may be easier to be speedy and take shortcuts. It’s easier not to take the time to assess cultural fit. It’s easier to hire a brilliant asshole which can be a disaster for the team. It’s easier to promote someone when they might not be willing or ready to take on the role. These are all easy choices, but at the end of the day there’s a good chance that you, your employees, and your organization will pay the price.
You have to be hard on yourself and resist the temptation to take the easy way out. Here are some ideas to consider:
Use your company’s leadership contract as a guide. Your organization’s leadership contract sets out the expectations of all leaders. Use it to determine if you are looking to recruit a leader who is ready to be a responsible leader.
Stay away from shiny assholes. Many organizations have a long-standing practice of promoting strong technical performers into leadership roles. It is implicitly assumed that exceptional individual and technical performance will result in strong leadership performance. Indeed, it sometimes happens; but many times this is not the case. Plus, when you have lots of brilliant assholes, they can leave a trail of destruction in your culture and erode your employee engagement.
Make it okay for someone to say no to a leadership role. Sometimes a candidate, especially an internal candidate, can feel tremendous pressure to say yes to a leadership role. In many organizations, people think that when the opportunity arises, the only acceptable answer is yes. We need to get people to say “No! Or “I’m not ready.” Employees need to be able to say no without fear of being struck off or taken off a high potential list, or never being asked to take on a leadership role in the future. You may be keen to put someone in the role, but if the person isn’t ready, you need to respect that. Remember that saying no to a leadership role you are not ready for is, in fact, a mature leadership decision.
This article is taken from the book Responsible leaders: inspiring a culture where everyone engages, takes ownership and produces results (Wiley).
Vince Molinaro, Ph.D., (Ontario, Canada) is founder and CEO of Leadership contract inc. and is an author, speaker, leadership advisor and researcher. He is the author of four books: Leadership Solutions, The Leadership Gap, The Leadership Contract, and the Leadership contract field guide. His work has been featured in the Harvard Business Journal, Forbes and global economy Forum.