Why Leadership Recruitment Is Broken – And How To Fix It

June 4, 2019 Chris Pearse

745 views Jan 7, 2019, 10:57am

Chris Pearse Contributor I write about the realities and challenges of leadership.

(AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)

What better leadership recruitment strategy could there possibly be than hiring the best there is? The leader who has demonstrated their pre-eminence through success, distinction and impact. The recipient of plaudits, kudos and accolades.

It’s a safe bet – no one got fired for buying IBM and no one will get fired for hiring the ‘best’. Or will they?

This two minute video summarises the recent demise of Jose Mourinho and illustrates how an almost universally acclaimed coach could go on to equal Manchester United’s worst start to a season.

This is not to criticise Mourinho in any way – simply to illustrate that:

Past performance is no guide to the future.

In the world of financial investments, this maxim is ubiquitous and yet paradoxically, technical analysis – a mainstay of professional investors – is based on exactly that: analysing the past to attempt predictions of the future.

Meteorology is another discipline which attempts to predict future weather by modelling what has gone before. The £100 million Met Office supercomputer does a pretty good job of next day forecasts but if you want a 10-day prediction, it’s cheaper to toss a coin.

Simon Childs of Parkwell Management Consultants and author of 5 Traits Of Exceptional Leaders is clear that:

Past performance of CEO candidates is far less significant from a recruitment perspective than are their attitudes and behaviours. And that is simply because performance won’t necessarily be transferable – attitudes are transferable.

This quote is revealing. Performance is context-dependent to a far greater extent than are the attitudes, and the behaviours that they shape. The performance of an organisation depends not just on its leadership but also on the team of people being led and the volatility and uncertainty of the markets and economies in which it operates.

In these terms, to expect the leader to take full responsibility for organisational performance is arguably naive, but to select a new leader primarily on past performance appears crass.

Performance is the last link in the chain of organisational cause and effect. The prime mover is desire (call it demand, ambition or need if you prefer), followed by thought and feeling, well before any action takes place. So the attitudinal approach that Simon Childs advocates makes a lot of sense in selecting leadership candidates. Of course, a track record of achievement needs to be demonstrated by any viable candidate, but this criterion although necessary, is not sufficient.

Psychometric tests have long been used to identify the personality, character and behavioural traits of candidates – they purport to assess the attitudes and, in particular, how the candidate will behave under stress. But there is plenty of opposition to this claim:

Arthur Carmazzi is unequivocal in his Thrive article:

The fact is that Personality is just too complicated to be put into a test or assessment. There are too many factors…

Some suggest that the test results are open to manipulation. Youtube hosts hundreds of videos that offer guidance to ‘passing’ these tests.

Although many of these tests purport to identify behavioural shifts under stress, how they can simulate a working environment – under test conditions – so well as to rule out gaming and massaging of the result, is hard to comprehend.

In contrast, a skilled interviewer is adept at homing in on specific events that the candidate found stressful in order to paint a picture of how their behavioural responses might shift under pressure. Simon Childs uses these memories in interviews to deliberately elicit the stress responses associated with them. Involuntary movements, glances, breathing and speech patterns can betray attitudinal traits that a written test is simply not capable of detecting.

In summary, the recruitment of leaders can be made far more robust through a recognition that it is the candidates’ inner dynamics, not their past achievements, that is the key to assessing their future performance.

As yet, this need can only be fulfilled through highly skilled interviewers who have developed a degree of self-awareness that allows them to recognise others’ attitudinal profiles through an intimate knowledge of their own.

I help leaders accelerate their development and impact through a deepened awareness of our inner dynamics – the belief systems and emotions that shape our leadership. Discover more here…

Chris Pearse

Chris Pearse Contributor

I am an Executive Coach to leaders across diverse sectors including FTSE100s and SMEs. I am also an Interim CEO.