I needed help and had few choices.

I have studied hiring, written a book about it, helped others do it and agree totally that it’s the single most important thing a leader can do. Jim Collins has it right.

I confess, I’ve only done it for myself a few times in my forty years. One time, through absolutely no fault of my own, I got it right… a brilliant hire that reflects everything that the best hire in the world should be like.

Let’s start with the data that my research revealed and the reality that remains consistent. Leaders asked if they had the opportunity, “How many of those hired in the past would you hire again, if you had the choice?” That would imply that these individuals who they would hire again either met or exceeded their expectations. Or if they declined the rehire implied that they were sold a false product during the hiring process. The answer usually hovers around 50%. That means, about 50% are what we call “false positives.” They look like a good candidate, but somehow didn’t live up to their “potential.” Oops.

If that 50% failure rate holds up over years, those hired into organizations will slowly bring down the level of competency and, effectiveness will diminish. The result of all this noodling around in relation to hiring is that I began to ask, what does the perfect hire, the perfect employee look like? And, what is it that people wanted most and seemed to get the least.

Following is that list that resonates with me, and many others.

  1. Someone who comes early and stays late and doesn’t count. It’s the idea that they will do what’s necessary to get done that must be done – regardless.
  2. Someone who is trustworthy. They speak the truth, hold confidences, and give me permission to do the same.
  3. Someone who is constantly looking for things to learn – because they love to learn. They simply are curious, want to understand the in’s and outs of the business / the job sufficiently enough that it becomes part of them.
  4. Someone who wants to be the best – where excellence is the end of everything they do. Mediocrity simply doesn’t stand a chance with this person. It also holds me to a higher standard.
  5. Someone who challenges my thinking – not because they want to be right, but because they want me to be the best I can be. That requires courage and tenacity since I don’t always want to hear what I need to hear.
  6. Somebody who can laugh out loud with me, at me, and at themselves. It sets a tone of humility so that no one gets too big for their proverbial britches. It is the contrarian we all need.
  7. Someone, who is interested in the world in which they live – the good, bad and the ugly. It’s the only way to maintain perspective and not get lost in the minutia of one’s work so that family and the larger world are first, not second thoughts.
  8. Someone who can make an honest mistake and not beat themselves up for it. Perfection is a hard edge to be around, since it makes it harder for others to be imperfect.
  9. Someone who is not better than anybody else – who will do the grunge work and never complain. Somewhere in here lies gratitude for our own good fortune.
  10. Someone who is open to forgiveness. It’s one of those necessary two-way streets, without which long relationships are impossible.

I write this because this is the last day of work for my fifteen-year colleague.

Chris originally undertook a part time engagement. Providentially, my small office in the woods was half way between the nursery school her children attended and her home in a rural part of Pennsylvania. Raised on the island of Nevis she had few of the normal credentials and no understanding of anything I did. But, I needed help and had few choices. I discovered that she had most of the things on that list and, over the years found the rest. As she grew and changed, learned her trade and my trade she never brought her bad day to work, although I did create a few for her. (See #10)

Chris leaves for the right reasons. She has outgrown me, and my business. It’s time for her to bring these ten qualities to the benefit of others who she will now lead.

The challenge of any hiring process is that if asked, most candidates for any job will say they have all or most of the ten. And, when tested many will appear as false positives. The things we can measure would never have told me these sterling qualities of Chris. They were on the job discoveries that kept on giving – to both of us.

8 thoughts on “I needed help and had few choices.

  1. I don’t know how I found this page, but wonderful insight about leadership…I think I am going to put the list on a post-it and sneak it into the faculty bathroom…. everyone who works in any kind of collective should read it! thanks Rod. Dj Webster


  2. Congratulations to Chris!!!
    Rod, I continue learning from you!–this is such a wonderful way to express out appreciation for the gifts that people share.


  3. What an insightful overall perspective Rod, not to mention the gracious and so very cool comments about Chris. The lesson and the example — Great job, better humanity! What could be a greater lesson or more powerful example??


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