Why Can’t We Figure Out How to Select Leaders?

Managers discuss their own experience in organizations in response to February's column. All good leaders teach as well as learn, says Jim Heskett. Is it possible with any degree of confidence to select people for certain leadership jobs? (Forum now closed. Next forum begins March 5.)
by Jim Heskett

Summing Up

How do we close the gap between theory and results in selecting leaders? In discussing why our achievements in selecting leaders are less than stellar, contributors offered a rich set of ideas. Given their number, I've tried to categorize them into several categories. First were those essentially enumerating the qualities that we should look for in a leader without suggesting how we identify and select for them. Some of the more interesting ones included Kapil Kumar Sopory's suggestion that we look for "... the person with the biggest fire inside of them...." Rowland Freeman would ask, "... how will the selected individual handle power?" Edward Hare suggested that results fall short of expectations "... because we don't understand motives (of the candidate for the leadership position) ... How many aspiring leaders are not genuine or authentic? They're the ones that scare me." These comments raise the question of how much theory tells us about selecting for harder to measure characteristics such as possible behaviors under fire and motives as opposed to skills and past accomplishments.

A second group pointed to the body of knowledge based on research and practice that can guide and improve the selection process and its outcomes. Their message was: "We know how to do it. And here's how." As Al Shealy commented, "The research isn't being used." Dan Erwin suggested that "... cutting-edge interviewing skills can give important insight ...." Stephanie Fuentes said that "It's not hard if you take the time to do the planning and preparation." But the comments of the first group leave us wondering whether theory serves us well when it comes to selecting for such things as "fire," potential use of power, and motives. As Matthew Tuttle suggested, "Many of the traits are ... difficult to see in an interview." One answer to the challenge was suggested by Kirk Richardson: "There is only one true way to select really good leaders in a highly-predictable manner. You home-grow them ...."

A third group concentrated on why theory has had less impact on results than we might expect, essentially identifying reasons for a gap between theory and results achieved in practice. Several pointed out that since needs can't be standardized, standardized approaches may not work. As Stevan Trooboff put it, "... the problem in picking leaders lies as much with definition of what types of leadership is required as in the process of selection itself." Dean Madison asked whether, in selecting leaders, we are skipping over a more important question of "What are we trying to achieve as an organization?" Adrian Grigoriu commented that "... it shouldn't be so hard. But business leader stereotypes corrupt the selection process ...." Several others questioned the capabilities of the selectors themselves. As Ganesh Ram put it, "Unfortunately excellence does (not always) breed excellence… because some of the best leaders may still not be the best selectors." Dick Meza suggested that "The issue here may be the degree to which senior management cares about selection."

These observations raise interesting questions. Are there leadership traits that can't be measured? How do we determine what role they may play and what outcomes they may produce in a challenging situation? Which ones are relevant to the challenges that may be faced by a particular organization, at least in the opinion of those doing the selecting at one point in time? Do selectors really know what they are looking for in a leader? How do we close the gap between theory and results in selecting leaders? What do you think?

Original Article

Selection is on my mind again. Perhaps it is prompted by the inauguration of a new U.S. President or the drama of leaders of our largest financial institutions worldwide struggling to justify decisions that have placed their organizations in jeopardy. I was reminded, too, of the CEO of a well-known retail organization who, I believe, would be regarded by Jim Collins (of Good to Great fame) as a Level 5 leader—"Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will"—except for the fact that he has been plagued with bad decisions regarding his choices for senior management positions and a reluctance to repair them quickly enough. Collins writes about the need to get the wrong people off the bus, but what about the need to avoid putting the wrong people on the bus in the first place? As Capital One's CEO, Richard Fairbank, put it several years ago, "At most companies, people spend 2 percent of their time recruiting and 75 percent managing their recruiting mistakes."

Now Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers) has come forth with the proposition that there may be some jobs for which it is impossible to hire with any confidence. As he puts it, "There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they'll do once they're hired." Three that he cites in a recent article in The New Yorker are pro football quarterbacks, high-performing financial advisors, and teachers.

Learning is more strongly influenced by individual teachers, for example, than any other factor, including class size and quality of the facilities. In various studies, the truly great teachers do things like giving good, individualized feedback while remaining sensitive and responding to interactions going on around them that might indicate needs of other students. The reason that these findings are important to the field of management is that all good leaders, among other things, teach as well as learn. It requires careful listening and responding, often to individual needs. I suspect that they apply the same sensitivity to the social, economic, and legal environment in the search for effective competitive strategies.

At our institution, like many others, we've addressed the problem by hiring at least four people for every one that we expect to succeed at the tasks of teaching and research that our faculty members face. That's a solution that most business organizations would consider too costly. Some organizations have inventoried the qualities that successful employees display, then try to select others with the same qualities. But the process is often applied only to those at middle or lower levels.

Are there leadership jobs in business for which it is simply impossible to select people with any degree of confidence? Do behaviors change when one is anointed with the power of a leadership position? Are we condemned to an on-the-job training approach, with the attendant obligation to correct mistakes quickly (which boards understandably are reluctant to do)? Or are there more affordable approaches to the problem? What do you think?

To read more:

Mike McNamee, "Credit Card Revolutionary," Stanford Business, May, 2001, p. 23.

Jim Colliins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001) Note: Selecting companies for good to greatness may be just as difficult as selecting leaders. One of the 11 companies that Collins cited as going from good to great went on to bankruptcy in just seven years after the publication of the book.

Malcolm Gladwell, "Most Likely to Succeed: How do we hire when we can't tell who's right for the job?," The New Yorker, December 15, 2008, pp. 36-42.

    • Ben Ortega
    • Learning Professional & Entreprenuer
    Unfortunately I don't think there is an affordable way to prevent hiring non-leaders.

    I think the only way to reduce the monetary and mental expenses when hiring a "leader" is you first have to BE a leader.

    If you look at Yahoo as an example; their CEO (Semel) didn't take advantage of the Yahoo property and over time, deteriorated the brand. He was ousted and the named successor (Yang), was another non-leader. Now the Yahoo board was expecting Yang and others to be the interviewers. How can those executives, who were responsible for selecting a "leader" make the right hiring decision, when they weren't leaders themselves?

    It's a vicious cycle and until those at the top move out of the way for pure "level 5" leaders, it will never cease.
    • Samuli
    • Middle manager
    Dear Jim,

    I have been thinking about this a lot in my current job. Not only for recruiting, but also for promoting leaders. Promoting people internally increases the degree of confidence for making the right choices.

    The well known saying "People are our most important asset" is very true, if you concentrate on getting the right people for the right jobs. This is something that I have witnessed in real life during organizational restructuring.

    And my job has become easier after spending more time on selection of people and less time managing them.

    • Stephanie
    • Director of Operations, Meeting Trader LLC
    I agree that the value of leadership is a highly debated art form - and that there may be some instances where there is no way to accurately predict one's performance in a job or leadership position. This, like everything else, is a concept that is constantly refined and remeasured... but another question that is brought up as a result is not only recruitment of the right leadership but also evaluating the foundation of education and experience that has brought the person to that level - do our schools adequately prepare the candidates for their future positions? And how often should these practices be evaluated?
    • CJ Cullinane
    There are as many definitions of leadership as there are leaders. I believe that different 'times' and situations call for different leadership models. This being the case there is no one leader that fits all situations and organizations. For a leader to be effective over time they must be flexible and able to change their leadership model to fit the current situation. This is very hard to do if not impossible.

    One way to circumvent this problem is for a leader to have a staff with different leadership traits and utilize them when their style of leadership is required. The able leader knows how to delagate and utilize all of their resources.

    Charisma does not suffice for the long haul so a long-term leader has to have a strong base to draw from, and with the short tenure of our business leaders this is very difficult to accomplish.

    I do not believe we can hire a leader but can only develop an exceptional leader over time with the unfortunate side affect of attrition until this leader emerges. I guess it is still the survival of the most adaptable.

    Charlie Cullinane
    • Al Shealy
    • Professor of Human Resource Management
    A few random thoughts:

    1. The human resource management field has a lot of research relevant to this question. Tim Judge, for example. has recently published meta-analyses on intelligence and personality as predictors of leadership. But the research isn't being used. Instead, too many leaders are still selected/promoted through the good ol boy system.

    2. Other leaders are selected through subjective and invalid selection means. The companies willing to use validated methods will win. The Moneyball effect is alive and well.

    3. Maybe I'm overly optimistic about 1 & 2. Some (like Meindl) believe that "leadership" is socially constructed, over-rated, and doesn't matter as much as we would like to believe. If that's true, companies are foolish to pay what they pay for leaders.

    4. According to two studies in the recent Academy of Management Perspectives, Good to Great ain't all that great.

    5. I think Gladwell's marketing skills are better than his scholarly take on this issue. In Outliers, he either doesn't understand or doesn't want to understand the huge body of research on intelligence. His view that "we just can't tell who's going to be a good leader" leads to the flawed belief: "since we can't tell, everyone should get a turn being the quarterback."

    6. I only brought up 4 & 5 because the people who spend their lives studying these issues are probably better sources than Collins and Gladwell.
    • Adnan Younis Lodhi
    • Section Officer, Ministry of Commerce, Pakistan
    We live in a very dynamic business environment. The pace of change has accelerated and is still accelerating. Skills are outpaced soon and new challenges emerge demanding new set of leadership skills.

    I agree to a great extent that there are certain leadership jobs in business for which it is almost impossible to select people with great degree of confidence.

    We may not like to confess openly about our shortcoming that by and large we have no choice but to rely on-the-job learning approach. And let us give due respect to this way of learning as countless learn from this way but certainly it has a cost that unfortunately could be hefty sometimes.
    • Stevan Trooboff
    • President and CEO, CIEE
    I believe that the problems in picking leaders lies as much with definition of what type of leadership is required as in the process of selection itself. "When you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there!" Too often, those charged with selection spend too much time thinking about 'who to pick' and not nearly enough time thinking about 'what's really required'. This problem is exacerbated by the desire to maintain continuity when in fact continuity might be less important than leading in new directions. And, the desire to hire in one's own image often leads to comfortable choices rather than choices that will work for the organization.
    • Peter Manda
    • Owner, Manda Translations, LLC
    Many companies don't like to see adversity on someone's background. The two worst things that anyone can go through by mid-career is rehabilitation for alcoholism and bankruptcy. What made Lincoln the great leader that he was, was that he went through deep personal struggles - and thus understood the human emotions of fear, anxiety, depression, etc. And because he had overcome them, he knew how to address those emotions when the country faced them. The same with leaders. It seems that companies hire individuals who have been consistently successful and shun those who have experienced adversity and learned from it. Thus, leadership and management is filled with individuals who have never faced personal problems and thus are not able to lead effectively through times like these where the markets and opportunities require resilience and the knowledge that while things may seem hopeless, they are not serious; while there is no outlook on the horizon, incremental acts and actions undertaken today will lay the groundwork for clear success.
    • Ben
    • Co-Founder, Careerious.com
    I think it's important to first decide upon the specifics of the job that a leader will be performing. This is harder than it seems because there are frequent trade-offs (i.e. is it better to be led by someone who has an enormous ego?). It's further complicated because the job and the person can, at times, be confused with one another. For instance, are we hiring the person who most credibly presents themselves as a leader, or are they actually capable of leading?
    • Kirk Richardson
    • Applications Development Mgr
    There is only one true way to select really good leaders, in a highly predictable manner. You home-grow them, you don't bring them in at the top. This requires a disciplined and robust management development program, as well as a well-honed process for identifying those managers that are good candidates to enter the program.

    Most organizations either don't have the patience for this approach, or don't want to put forth the effort and investment necessary to properly cultivate good leaders over a long period.

    Other than the above approach, there is the rare individual that can interview, interact, and converse well enough with a prospective candidate, to get better-than-average results. Not near as many people can do this as those that think they can. They have to put away their biases, and turn all their receptors on high, to truly take in all the little things that can point to either failure or success down the road.

    The scientific measurement instruments are fine for mid and lower level, they do not (consistently) apply to the high-impact individuals.
    • JLalos
    • Project Leader
    As you can imagine, in my 40-year work history as an individual contributor, I have been subjected to many 'leaders'. My experience has distilled leaders into 2 categories -those who are personally proud of past performances, and those who have nothing to point to.

    Not being able to point with pride to past achievements increases ones insecurity. This sense of pride comes from work well done regardless of the scale. Insecurity leads towards petty decisions meant to mask the insecurity, rather than focusing on the greater good. Finally, promoting those with no accomplishments sends a message to those of us watching in dismay.

    In the end, this is my personal observation, however as mentioned by Al Shealy earlier, there is plenty of information based on solid research, but it is not being used. Much like 'Black Belt' rigor -taught but not practiced much.
    • Phil Clark
    • Clark & Associates
    Way too much thinking and evaluating going on. Maybe we can't see the forest for the trees? I watch how people treat and support others. I knew a Coast Guard retiree that became a grade school janitor that ended up becoming head of a school district. Why? Because he knew how to treat people, connect with the kids, teachers, and parents. It wasn't about all the fancy degrees, publishing, and ego. He cared about the kids and their future. Look at the heart and soul of people. See what they do. You will find leaders. I am afraid we face the economic crisis today because we looked at the wrong measures for leaders. Real leaders would have not put us into this situation.
    • Dan Erwin
    • President, Erwin Group
    I think there's little doubt that a new context often changes human behavior--and that's certainly true for leaders. On the other hand, cutting-edge interviewing skills can give important insight to the current state of a professional's adaptability and decision-making. That makes some predictability possible.

    Still further, I think Gladwell is a brilliant writer, but periodically off base in his conclusions. Having worked as the chair of a graduate faculty department, I don't think we need to be in the dark nearly as much as Gladwell proposes.
    • David Huggins
    • President, Andros Consultants Limited
    It is very possible that we are not asking ourselves the right question. The issue is not how to predict leadership success when we cannot know the contextual challenges in which leadership behaviors will be practiced.

    Perhaps we should focus on the two behavioral components of "will-power" and "way-power"? The latter has always received most attention it seems. If someone can demonstrate that they know how to perform we are all too ready to make the assumption that they will do likewise in the future - no matter what happens. This is a short path to disappointment.

    The first, and likely the most important consideration is whether the individual has a "will" sufficiently strong to adapt, to persist, to prevail no matter what obstacles might arise. Failure to adapt to radically changing circumstances is a singular reason for leadership failure and a lack of persistency (intelligently adapted) is probably another major failing.

    Personal strengths rather than cognitive abilities have been researched thoroughly and proven to be major determinants for leadership success. Because they are more difficult to identify and less-than-comfortable to address they have not received the attention they deserve.

    Surely, we've been wrong enough times to ask ourselves the essential question - am I focusing on what is really important here?
    • Jeff Williams
    • Consultant
    In today's business world, nobody takes the time or has the desire to develop "their most important asset". Which translates into - What can you do for me today? We want, seek and communicate that the main goal is instant satisfaction. Boards want to hire readymade and equipped superheroes. Advanced degrees are required for all levels as filters to get maximum performance on day one.

    I don't believe the real world works that way. What if you had to interview to become a parent? Could you prove via experience and credential that you could perform the role? I don't know, but what if US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's performance reviews consistently read: Performs all duties as expected.

    Capability in difficulty, true character, sincerity and wisdom are hard to define and usually never worn on our sleeves.
    • Anonymous
    I have worked for a commercial bank, an investment bank as a public finance investment banker, a financial guarantee insurance company, and now for the Church - the final chapter in my post HBS career before I retire at the end of this year.

    My experience has been consistent: leaders need to have and to communicate a sense of mission, and to be evaluated against a set of measurements that relate to the achievement of that mission. The mission should be meaningful to all stakeholders, not just to the shareholders and those in the bonus pool. The mission needs to be expressed in terms that inspire those who need to follow (employees), purchase the company's products, and buy the company's stock. The mission should be meaningful in both the short and long term. The mission statement should be developed by the leader, and the requirement to develop one might be part of a competitive selection process. Those doing the hiring would learn a lot about the candidates.

    Generally, the effective leader listens to the market - broadly defined - and learns from a variety of voices external as well as internal to the organization and industry. This ensures the ongoing relevance of the mission, and the marketability of the company's products. The effective leader also takes the time to delelop the key messages to communicate with (educate) his/her stakeholders - all of them!

    The three most important characteristics in a leader in my opinion are character - including self-discipline and restraint (old-fashioned ideas we don't hear too much about these days), intelligence - both emotional as well as the kind usually considered, and risk-taking. Leadership requires the courage to change course, or strike out in new directions. Without the willingness to take risks, a brilliant manager will never become an effective leader.

    All three of these qualities can be easily observed on the job by those looking for them. Unfortunately, the risk-taking quality, which includes speaking up and taking unpopular positions, is usually considered to be a "problem." 360 reviews should be mandatory for those in top level positions, and those being considered for those positions.
    • Robert Stevens, CFA
    • President, Douglas-Allen Inc., Executive Search
    The criteria for hiring future decision-makers, beyond their education, is often subjective. In many successful cases where the new hire became and effective leader, we had to first convince the hiring authority to look beyond stereotypes and beyond their first-choice, to hire that person.

    God may have created man in his own image, but business leaders who use that same measure are often disappointed.
    • Rowland Freeman
    • retired
    Here we go again. Over time I have found using human resource persons or search firms does not work. It takes not only extensive interviews to really probe an individuals background, but interviews with friends, former employees a person worked with, what kind of "trials by fire", what was he persons upbringing, this last one very important in this era of self esteem. However, still believe there is no magic formula. On a Navy selection board you have 15-20 years of fitness reports from various assignments. Not so in industry. Even then mistaken selections are made, the biggest one being how will the selected individual handle power. All we have to look around at the misuse of power by those who created our current economic difficulties, take excessive bonuses, to realize we need to take much time in training future leaders, and have a specific plan to do that, and as noted by one comment, that plan must suit the situat
    ion in the organization concerned
    • Patricia Kreitz
    • SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
    I applaud Charlie Cullinane's comment above that leaders need staff whose skills compliment their own. Perhaps it is American culture that focuses too heavily on the one, "leader at the top". Organizations are far more complex--as is leadership in organizations--than we think about. When a company or non-profit organization chooses a CEO, they should identify the team, Board members and senior managers, with whom the CEO will work--and then identify the leadership skills that will be needed from that whole ecosystem.

    The second issue raised in the original question is how to you predict future performance. That is, even if you've identified the skills and abilities needed by a leader of your organization, how do you know she or he will be able to meet that challenge once selected and be effective over time?
    • Ankit Vachhani
    In reading this article, I was often reminded of Admiral William Frederick Halsey Jr. quote: "There are no great men. Just great challenges which ordinary men, out of necessity, are forced by circumstance to meet."

    Having spent a significant amount of time reading about leadership, I've found that the idea of being able to "select" the next leader (or even to "be" the next leader) partly stems from our unconscious desires. Leadership, much like Love, is a very high level concept that has a blend of many internal and external factors and often emerges over a certain time period. Leadership and love both strike at our unconscious needs such as fame/identity, power, control, etc. and often include a further confusing factor of psychological projection. Just as we see our children and spouse with rosy-tinted glasses, we see our leaders through these glasses and often misattribute characteristics to satisfy our internal unconscious desires. So trying to identify the next transformative leader seems to be a lot like trying to identify the love of our life. Sometimes we know and are right, sometimes we think we know and are wrong and sometimes we don't have a clue and
    happen to have the right thing land in our lap.
    • James Pedersen
    • Veterans Employment Representative, Job Service North Dakota
    I think there are two criteria which should be looked at, but I'm not sure I can give other than an elementary description of each. First, is there sufficient give and take between the applicants and the hiring officials. Does each know the other's strengths and weaknesses? Is there sufficient understanding on both sides of what needs to be done? Is hiring done with the assumption that the new executive can motivate his/her team to accomplish what needs to be done? I know that applicants can make it sound like they walk on water, but how much was done by their subordinates? Second, if the first criteria is positively met, what about resources? Does the new executive have the ability and resources to be a Patton, or will he/she turn out to be a frustrated negotiator/compromiser just to get anything done?
    • Peter A. Mello
    • Founder, Weekly Leader
    Since we're all human and, therefore fallible, leading and selecting leaders will always be fraught with challenges and uncertainty. It's unavoidable.

    Unfortunately, people aspire to positions of leadership for the wrong reasons; they too often equate leadership with authority. True leadership is about service to a common good, not claims of entitlement and shunning responsibility that we've seen recently on Wall Street and in Detroit and Washington.

    While you can be "anointed" a King or a Bishop, that doesn't necessarily make you a "leader." In fact, the term leader is relatively meaningless because it is so transitory. One moment a leader, the next a follower and vice-versa. We would all be better served if we could get away from talking about leadership as a role and focus more on it as action exercised.

    Finally, we learn most effectively when we experience things and this applies especially well to leadership. We should not condemn on-the-job training but rather recommend it as an effective method for practicing leadership. Real life experience and practice complemented by designed leadership education and coaching/mentoring will best prepare leaders for the uncertain future that they face every day.
    • Matthew Tuttle
    • Founder, Pure Performace Coaching
    It's hard to select a leader because we don't know what they are made of on the inside. Many of the traits of a leader come from being in tune with their values and needs - difficult to see in an interview. Most don't have a clear idea what their guiding principles are, let alone to act on them. Want proof; ask one to name what success means to them -to them, not the business. How do they use their answer to lead in their current role?

    The big mistake, as I see it, is that leaders come into an interview and don't really know who they are. They succeed by their skill and fail because they lack social intelligence. When aligned with the core beliefs, a person can act with greater assuredness and meet the needs of their people and board.

    Certainly, this is not the sure bet we all hope to find through this discussion. It is possibly the first place to start.
    • Paul T. Jackson
    • owner/information consultant, Trescott Research
    Lots of questions here, along with lots of directions of the discourse. As I've said in the past, leaders are those persons who are leaders because others say they are, garnered from their observations in working with them, or seeing the results from the persons efforts.

    Lots of "leaders" (persons) have been promoted into leadership because they have first shown activity in the common everyday work being done by them that is recognized as being leadership quality.

    Looking for leaders, might just be a matter of finding enough people (surveys) who will point to who they think would be good in a particular position, having had experience with that person. Or, HR could look at credentials that show a list of past leadership positions in voluntary work.

    People who become leaders are those who have courage to do things differently and have a proclivity for action that leads altruistically to the completion of the goal/mission...not those who are looking at how good something will look on a resume, or how much money they will make. And a lot of those "leaders" are not going to be done when they finish one goal, they will look at all they've done and ask, "what else can we do for the good of the company/organization."

    The University of Michigan at one point many years ago did a survey of the town of Ypsilanti, Michigan trying to find who was the most influential person in town. Turned out to be the Minister of the First Baptist Church, who declared one time that when he tells his congregation about service, he's also talking to himself. As suggested above in other comments, the question comes up as to whether in leadership one wants someone influential or someone who can get the job done; figuring out what job really needs to be done.

    I've seen a lot of people placed in positions for name recognition and those with some influence among a particular group of people, but who didn't have a clue about what needed to be done...leaving a lot of people under them without direction, or in some cases, having those valuable people leaving as a result.

    What is haunting us now is that those who have made bad decisions are still in the positions to make more bad decisions or set bad policy...and that can only be corrected by some strong leadership at the top...the very top of the food chain! Those are the people responsible for the direction/paths these lesser "leaders" took! And we all got taken!
    • Anonymous
    It is all about getting the new leader integrated into the culture of the new organization and allowing them the opportunity to share their ideas on what it will take for their role to succeed -- whether it is grow sales, decrease expenses, etc.

    Don't be quick to judge the person and/or the ideas they bring. You brought the person in because you wanted new ways of doing the work. Provide lots of support for the new person; don't let anyone blackball the new hire.

    If you want the same strategy, promote the person that was mentored by the person leaving. Then expect the same results that were there before.
    • Doug
    • retired
    As long as HBS keeps putting out "leaders" like George W. Bush and the denizens of Wall Street and continues to think it is doing a good job, then we are all in trouble. Leadership is about example and the highest example in capitalism is "enlightened" self interest, i.e. do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or as John Smale, former CEO of P&G, said at a meeting I once attended, "when dealing with the consumer, remember, you are one."
    • Anonymous
    If you want true leaders to start rising to the top, stop paying so well for the leadership positions. I believe too many people who wouldn't otherwise think of aspiring to lead do so because of the money, fame, or both, whether they are born to or not. A good leader will rise to the top irregardless of excessive compensation.
    • Steve Ashton
    • Vice President, People & OD
    After 20 years in executive search and HR, there are some common traits among the leaders I most admire:

    1. They have a vision - they see an improved future state and strong desire to get there. (Seek it out in interviews/selection processes).

    2. They have learned to engage people - they seek to understand other people's agendas, find win-wins and use that to enroll them. (Deep reference checking and behavioural interview questions can help here).

    3. They have the political savvy to know who's on board and who isn't. Some leaders get blindsided by politics - the better ones know how to pay attention to, neutralize and/or convert these forces quietly, ethically and effectively. (Ask them to walk you through how they uncovered and overcame political challenges in the past).

    4. It's context specific - great leaders often emerge as the result of their motivation matching the opportunity. I would agree with others who commented that unfortunately, organizations aren't always clear on what they really need. (Here's where the better headhunters or outside, objective advisors can help).

    5. They manage a healthy tension between patience and a 'sense of urgency.' They take the time to understand the context and culture of the organization and the people around them. Then, they drive for results using what they learned to navigate the best course. (It is worth asking the individual about how they balance these two forces in interviews).

    At the end of the day, it's art and science, and rarely perfect. But it is worth the effort to continually improve your processes for identifying what good leadership looks like and selecting for it.
    • Adrian Grigoriu
    • EA consultant
    Leaders are hard to select since leadership is such a loosely defined term, abused and misused. To start with, there are too many business leaders without leadership abilities. Leadership is also more visible in times of doom rather than boom.

    It is generally accepted that business management is about organization, control, planning and budgeting. Leadership is thought to be about motivation, mobilization, creating the vision and establishing culture. It demands charisma, the quality of an individual to attract followers for a specific endeavor by inspiring trust and respect . This comes from experience, education, leading by example and natural abilities such as self confidence and emotional control (EQ) to reassure and be credible. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the emotionally stability to understand, interpret and control emotion in others and be in control of one's self.

    Leadership also needs authenticity to succeed, that is the image shown should fit the substance. Authenticity means "do what you say" and "say what you think".

    All in all, I believe in the selection process, professional competence, management acumen, business administration skills, social skills, EQ and ethics should be checked against.

    After all, it shouldn't be so hard. But business leader stereotypes corrupt the selection process, the MBA degrees offer Off-The-Shelf solutions and the cross business "networks" implicitly offer "leadership credentials" and the opportunity to occupy leading positions without concourse.
    • Thomas Stephens Jr.
    • Human Resources, Quest Diagnostics
    A little over 20 years ago, I sat in a training session lead by Stephen Covey. I heard a statement I continue to use to this day, "We see the world, not as it is, but as we are." Here is my postulation of this idea: If that statement is true, then what we determine in leadership, behaviors of current leaders, is an extension of those who appointed them. How could it be otherwise? In every case, we find what we are looking for, the familiar. It is nearly impossible to see, what is buried in statistical scrutiny, correlating interview data with ideas of the perfect candidate.

    I realize that many say, "No, I want different; I want this, or that." I am not convened, in the light of considerable research, that such an option is possible.

    We know fairly well, in behavioral and business operating results, what effectual leadership looks like, subsequent to hire. However, prior to hire, this appears to be an ongoing intellectual exercise. Additionally, to complicate further the search for the ideal leader, individuals have been known to present characteristics contrary to their own disposition.
    • Dianne Jacobs
    • Founding Principal, The Talent Advisors (Melbourne, Australia)
    Leader selection, be it a new appointment or promotion can be high risk - for the individual, the manager sponsoring the recommendation and the organisation. Clarity of the business context is fundamental in the selection process as the abilities needed to implement one type of strategy may not be the same abilities required for another type of strategy: requisite skill sets, behaviours and experiences do vary.

    The speed and competitiveness of business places great anxiety on leaders-in-transition to make immediate contributions as there are high expectations that they will quickly reach their break-even point, contributing as much value as they have consumed. Often the new leader is expected to have completed a diagnosis of the business and the organisation at a systemic level; had broad and frank dialogues to reach alignment on the business situation; understood communication styles; clarified expectations; and negotiated resources. They need to have assessed the team; built relationships and identified when and how to achieve momentum through early wins. It is no surprise that derailments typically occur.

    Transitions are pivotal turning points. Getting selection right is vital. So too is taking a more strategic and integrated approach to supporting new leaders during the transition phase to ensure their effectiveness is achieved more quickly.
    • Dinesh
    • Engineer, Infosys Technologies Ltd
    I think everyone has in-built leadership hidden within ourself and it is all the situation and experience that counts.

    If we could analyse the situation and predict its output we can very well take responsibility rather than pointing others to lead us, so from my view i would say that we need to have a clear objective of where we should be in future and where we are standing at present. This would pave the way for leadership or at least make us select someone who could lead us.
    • Jonathan Smith
    • Communications Manager, FPC
    We could look at this question a little differently and ask: have Americans finally selected a good leader after decades of selecting candidates who are at best mediocre?

    Why might this be so?

    Have there really been many strong candidates to choose from?
    • Jim Johnson
    • Principal, EnterCap Partners, LLC
    Dr. Heskett and contributors--

    What a great topic--it could and should be an ongoing thread. Here are my two cents.

    First, there are a number of reasonably researched (i.e., statitstically validated) studies of "leadership" selection whereby a priori measures are correlated with/used to predict leadership effectiveness. Few are the perfect research paradigm. Research in the lab is questionable and research in actual organizations is expensive, often controversial, and generally not of interest to the powers that be.

    I had my first experience with the AT&T approach to assessment centers in 1972 and have applied it over the years to high potential identification in a chemical company, shift foremen in production settings, sales trainee positions and state park ranger/managers.
    The AC method was subjected to perhaps the best research at AT&T in the famous Management Progress Study. Many of the lessons of leadership selection are dealt with in that work.
    Two findings always ring in my mind: AC ratings did predict attainment of senior leadership positions and the quality of supervision in the first five years of employment predicted as well or better.

    The AC approach is less used these days because it is highly visible in an organization. And if you don't do well, your chances of promotion go down--presumably. Most organizations cannot take that tension and therefore regress to less visible, less transparent, methods--usually a small group of executives sitting around a table with performance rating of dubious validity and person perceptions subject to all the distortions that implies. Call it the smoke filled room.

    Large organizations, even those who have adopted a total system approach to work processes, don't seem to recognize that there's a system, albeit fairly implicit, of management/leadership Darwinism in their own organization. Say one has five levels of management--almost always the new 5's are selected from the (surviving) 4's. They in turn are selected from 3's etc. So where does level 5 selection really take place? My advice--get control of the 1 to 2 selection process. But of course it is at that level that companies are likely to rely on technical skills as criteria for promotion and those decisions are often made by a lower level of existing management--who may not want to create too much completion. Elliot Jacques addresses this issue in some depth.

    I believe the selection of leaders in private enterprise has been impaired because by the debate over "management" and "leadership." Personally I believe that is a false dichotomy that sells books but it also tends to minimize a whole set of important skills. For example, managing is important-and "leaders" who can't manage are a pain to work for. See Ram Charan's treatment in Know How. People who are effective in positions of formal leadership (i.e., supervisors, managers, executives who get work done through others) need to have a range of skills--business acumen/technical, "leadership" in the sense of drawing others into followership, and "managers" in the sense of knowing how to get things organized and run the ship. These are strikingly similar to the ATT studies factor analysis of performance showing Administrative, Human Relations, and Intellect.

    Finally, let's remember that there is also pretty good history of various written tests in predicting leadership success and/or derailment. I refer readers to Robert Hogan's work, Tim Judge mentioned above.

    Net net--we could be much better at selecting leaders if organizations (ie, leaders) had the courage to use high visibility but high hassle methods. As it is, the path of least resistance, esp when you arrogant enough to believe "I can pick 'em", is the path chosen. Result: random, at best, selection of leaders.
    • Richard B. Mann
    • Entrepreneur & Adjunct Prof., Pepperdine University
    One reason: leadership potential is not evaluated before training begins. There are many leadership programs that target corporate executives, students, and the public in general. Most of these programs have good, basic ideas about what makes a good leader and emphasize ways to attain a level of competency in the essential skills of leadership, but leadership is more than skills development. Style and capabilities that match the requirements of a situation are more important than skills developed in training programs.

    Warren Bennis (1989) believes true leaders are made, not born, and made more by themselves than by others. In his, Where Have All the Leaders Gone chapter, of Why Leaders Can't Lead, he, points out why leadership development does not produce better results. Collins says find your Voice. Rowe says Know yourself -uses the DSI.

    "Because the rules of the business game are changing..." with unexpected competition coming from many places, "current leaders represent what...business needed in the past not in the present or the future" (Fulmer and Bleak, 2007). What is needed more than skills is an understanding of how a person's authentic leadership style fits with one's environment and position.

    The fit between a style, or a style pattern, and the demands of a particular position is critical. To be effective and successful in any leadership position, there must be a fit between the demands of a particular position and its leadership requirements. How one thinks (mental capacity and capability), what one believes (internalized convictions), and the values placed on outcomes (internalized values), determine how one acts (behavioral evidence). Behavior is an indication of who a person is and his/her "personality." This then is the sum total of education, indoctrination, experience and desires.

    The dangers of charisma to self and others: An authentic person must be brave enough to look deeply into his/her unconscious/subconscious, hidden, and irrational motives in any situation that evokes feelings of fear of opposition, paranoia, revenge, ruthless competitive advantage, subjugation of another, and need for unconditional obedience (Kets de-Vries, 1994).

    According to Kets de-Vries, these motives result from a "Reactive Narcissism" (1994, p. 86). While narcissism is, "The engine that drives people" (p. 84), and is needed and necessary for a normal life, it is a double-edged sword, because, in excess it carries a serious danger to the person and all those affected by that person. The first 1 to 3 years of childhood are critical in shaping a person's personality - "...all ethics are established by age 7" (p. 85). During these developmental years many frustrations are encountered. Frustrations in life are inevitable and coping is part of the learning that takes place. How are these frustrations resolved? When they are accommodated in a reasonable way the child learns to adapt and easily overcomes the negative feelings that occur. In some cases the frustrations lead to unresolved feelings of revenge that become hidden in the "Shadow side" of a person's personality (MBTI Manual, 1962).

    The shadow side, depending on the dominate trait of a person, can explode in anger, create apprehension, dawdling, passive aggression, or even result in a low order of pleasure seeking. Depending on the situation, the shadow side can be extremely dangerous or merely an annoyance. Nevertheless, in any situation, the true authentic leader will deal with these emotions constructively. The Machiavelli and Hitler types will cause great harm to everyone within a very wide range.
    • Kumara Uluwatta
    • Senior Lecturer in Management Accountancy, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka
    This is good question today. All people all over the world are leaders according to their ideology to some extent. Inherently they believe it. Though most like to see themselves as leaders, they don't have leadership. Sometimes leaders are hidden. We don't have a chance to select them due to different types of barriers. In most cases positions are being filled by considering qualifications, votes, and so on. Does it imply we are selecting the real leader? NO.
    • Anonymous
    Informative and valid perspectives regarding this issue. Perhaps becoming more attuned to the level of transparency elicited in the developing leaders' professional conduct is a consideration. In addition to the obvious, a positive track record in accountabilty is also a plus.
    • Bruce Watson
    • Founder & Principal, Heads Together
    Because the concepts of "leader" and "leadership" are flawed right from the beginning. We expect a so-called "leader" to be omnipotent to the extreme. Anyone is capable of acts of leadership in a given context and situation. It might be the Prime Minister or a person walking down the street. It is time to concentrate more on the "followers" and best to work with them - knowing and utilising the fact that they all have the capability to be a "leader" in particular circumstances. Then the discussion becomes really relevant because it concentrates more on about being a good manager, understanding people, how to communicate, how to influence - I recommend over and over and year after year, that separating management and "leadership" is totally inappropriate and is a dichotomy best erased. Redesign all management courses, especially MBAs and clear out the libraries of half-researched organisation theory books. If recent corporate events haven't compelled people to realise that they are on an unsustainable path built on crazy premises then we are all in for an even rougher ride. "Leaders" and "leadership" as they are described in much of contemporary literature are myths. They are emotive words that conjure up images of "greatness" and omnipotence - some of the best "leaders" I have seen are in the back rooms quietly influencing people in appropriate ways. Everyone needs to realise "Superman" is a myth, a legend. Put your energy into making better managers who can appropriately influence people rather than rattle on about "leaders" and their traits. That is all based on a false academic premise that has caused more harm than good.
    • Luis X. B. Mourao
    • Senior Manager R&D, Bang & Olufsen
    Hiring is a skill like any other skill.

    I don't fix my car brakes because I don't have the skill and I might die as a consequence.

    Why are people who have no demonstrable hiring skills hiring and especially leaders? What do you expect?

    A culture of integrity and merit really helps!
    • Anonymous
    In these times, CEOs have to make decisions that result in some people losing their jobs. I can appreciate the fact that making said decisions is stressful. I have a hard time feeling sympathy when said CEO doesn't actually experience the result of losing their job - that is real stress as losing some sleep isn't the same as losing the ability to feed your family or of losing your home.

    In addition, I find that in my experience, decision making power is related in the inverse to the everyday knowledge required to make an informed choice. I cannot count the number of times upper management has failed to consult the expertise they hired only to see an objective fail, then blame the very people they failed to consult.

    From the worker's perspective, the real goal seems obvious - upper management hires yes-men that will fall on the sword to protect their leader. It doesn't matter if this is the real motivation or not because an essential requirement of being a leader is that you are respected and when reality pans out in this way, leaders do nothing but lose the respect of their charges.

    Just once, I'd love to witness a leader admitting their own fault rather than passing the buck to someone who doesn't cost much to replace.
    • Ronnie
    • Partner, Heaven Design
    I wouldn't just think of their capability. I think first of all, we need to hire someone who's sharing the same vision, then look into the candidate's job reference, networking ... etc.

    If we studied all the successful leaders, the time and enviornment factors must count. For example, graduating from MIT and London Business School does not mean they are the future leaders, but at least they reached the core competence. Success or not, I think it needs to rely on the time and environment.
    • P. Tsaldari
    • Owner, Maritime Ships
    The noteworthy comments above are drawn from wisdom, consumed by hungry, experienced eyes.

    Great leaders are strong captains of little words, no promises and great powers in taming the tempest, in the full throws of a tsunami fit. They look and study. They listen and learn. They act upon and deal with the ugly consequences, the wrath and scorn by lesser men.

    Lastly and the most provocative of all is that in order for greatness to take root in a leader, fate must dip her fingers into the brew as well.
    • Ramji
    • CFO, Ramji Associates
    Yes, it is still a difficult decision to recruit a correct leader. If you see the Indian cricket team's coach post, they recruited Graham Chappal with great hopes, but he could not perform well.

    In a lot of cases the failure in recruitment happens because the recruiters feel once the recruitment is over, their job is over. Instead the recruiters should help, stand with the new recruit for 120 days for his safe landing. In most of the cases the induction, training are ended only with powerpoint presentations.

    The recruiter should have periodic feedback and discussions with the new recruit and give him/her a conducive environment in which to perform.
    • Christoph Loeslein
    • CEO, Board Advisors GmbH
    All the aspects already mentioned makes it one of the most difficult tasks an organization faces when selecting a new leader, let alone ensuring that Leadership is something that is practiced throughout the organization and not just at the top.

    Maybe it is because I have been involved in building companies internationally that I miss one key factor in the discussion and that is the crucial impact of how leaders deal successfully with culture diversity.

    There are plenty of types if cultures and there would be room for endless articles about them so I focus on the most important one and that it is - regardless of globalization - regional and national culture. It is nearly impossible to predict if a CEO and as a result his/her team achieving benefits as result of a company being multicultural or - as often the case - destroys value by neglecting the different aspects of culture.

    Because the business potential for many companies today is spread all over the world it is a key factor for success to understand cultural differences and develop clever ways to extract value from them. Those benefits can be gained by working with all types of stakeholders. To predict if a leader is hired form the outside is capable of translating multicultural resource/asset into long-term benefits for the company is impossible as the cultural mix of companies differ vastly.

    In this context, nurturing leadership talent is almost always the superior strategy. If a company are struggling or wants to change their direction substantially and therefore needs leadership experience, which simply not available in the organization, then hiring from outside is the better bet (at least temporarily). To be able to hire from inside, however, it is crucial for companies to set up long-term leadership development programs that are closely linked to succession and the overall strategic plan of the organization.
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC (India) Private Limited
    On-the-job training approaches are not going to succeed for all and sundry. In my view, recruitment processes require a total overhaul with extraneous factors not weighing at all. We should know who we want and then focus our search accordingly. As regards the ultimate traits of a genuine leader, I agree with Robin Sharma when he says, "Success doesn't come to the most intelligent/gifted/strong. The world is full of geniuses who did zero with their talent.... Sustained success comes to the person with the biggest fire inside of them." So, let's go all out to locate people with such a blaze.
    • Michelle Malay Carter
    • Vice President, President
    The reason why we can't figure out how to select leaders is that we don't understand work. The reason why I can diagnose this problem with confidence and ease is that I have a model - a model for work and a corresponding model for human cognitive capability to perform work.

    Management Science Must Take a Page from Physical Science.
    An analogy: An understanding of work levels and its relationship to levels of human problem solving capability is to management science what the understanding of energy and its relationship to temperature is to physical science.

    Simple Tools and Engineering Templates Allow for the Easy and Practical Application of Scientific Theory.
    When the thermometer became a tool for the easy, practical application of scientific laws toward predicting the "behavior" of matter, our ability to engineer our physical world to our benefit improved dramatically. For example, not only could we now observe that H2O existed in three different states (ice, water, steam), the thermometer allowed us to reliably forecast when these states would change.

    If we understood work, we could use this knowledge to engineer structurally sound organizations and to hire leaders who match the work required by the role. Back to (Little Known) Management Science.

    1. Not all work is the same. Work exists in discreet levels of complexity, and any given work role can be categorized by level. Time span of discretion allows us to measure this.
    2. Raw talent capability to solve problems in humans exists (independent of experience, education, or knowledge) and it can be categorized by level. Managers, given a common language and framework for interpretation, can reliably judge their employees' capability levels.
    3. Human problem solving capability levels can be aligned one-for-one with work levels.

    Matching People (And Leaders) to Roles:
    If we understand the work level called for in the position of CEO (which will vary from organization to organization), we can conduct a selection process that targets and screens for leaders with the requisite level of cognitive capability. Just like we can observe H2O in its various states, we can also observe and judge cognitive capability.
    Unfortunately, if the CEO role is at level five and a leader currently capable at level four is hired, s/he will shrink the organization down to something s/he can contain as s/he will not be able to perform the level five work. If a CEO with capability above the role is hired, brace yourself for growth.

    Cognitive capability is not the only criteria to consider, but it should be the first. I use a three point model to match people to roles. One point is cognitive capability. Once you have established a candidate matches a role in terms of cognitive capability, one must also consider knowledge, skills, experience and values, temperament and inhibitors.

    Managerial Leadership Tools and Organizational Engineering Templates Based on Scientific Theory.
    Tools do exist for the easy practical application of work levels theory toward predicting the behavior of leaders. Hence, our ability to engineer our organization's systems to tap all employees' full potential is one benefit of using work levels theory to design work enabling systems. Other applications of the theory can benefit organizational effectiveness in a variety of ways.

    Further, work levels is just one piece of the meta-model, Requisite Organization, which offers an integrated approach for organization design, managerial leadership, and talent management. It's not rocket science; it's people science. I suspect the job title, organizational engineer, will be mainstream one day. As I like to say: I'm OK. You're OK. Let's fix the system.

    Need Proof, Want Research?
    If you would like to read more on the management science part, you can access the 210-page Requisite Organization annotated research bibliography or 1010 pages of dissertations on the theory sponsored by the Global Organization Design Society.

    Michelle Malay Carter - Mission Minded Management Blog
    • Sugeetha Kurada
    • Student, ICSI
    In my opinion a leader is not only the one with perfect track record of achievements, a degree from reputed university and the so called most intelligent person.. But also should have vision, able to predict the future and deal with every contingency/opportunity in a right way to convert them into results. In reality no one can predict the future 100% correctly. In case if one would knew about the coming circumstances' still he may/may not be able to channelize the resources to turn it into a positive outcome. So the performance of an individual is all RELATIVE, w.r.t the people, w.r.t resources, w.r.t thinking, psychology and etc.

    Selecting the right person as a leader is an equation of probability. The basic/general benchmark for the selection of any leader is their past performance. But the question is how far this benchmark is viable.(e.g in a three hour test: that particular day that person could do well in the test, relatively, among the group of the contestants. May be some other person could off beat him who is not among the said group that day OR may be any other person who could not do well just in that particular circumstance but has the capability to do well in any other circumstance (but till now did not get any proper chance to perform). So many variables.
    • Jon Benfer
    • Director, Global Coaching Services, The ARBINGER Institute
    I'm hearing two main concerns with executive hiring:

    1. Not enough time and attention to the hiring process, and

    2. Too much attention (when it is paid) to behavior.

    Technical skills and past business success is certainly important, but maybe leaders have to look below the surface of behavior, what many call character. Phil Clark is pointing to it when he talks about the leader who "knew how to treat people."

    Most organizations, however, have no systematic way to think about how their people treat each other. Businesses measure the cost of real estate, investments, etc., but never measure the cost of conflict, lack of collaboration, etc. One way to think about this is: if you had someone in your organization who performed to her/his plan at 110% but made everyone else's job more difficult, on what basis could you ever fire that person? If you're not setting expectations and measurements around how people treat each other, you won't have any way to do so.

    Someone once gave me this idea for an interview: roll up a piece of paper and throw it on the floor between the door and the chair where the interviewee will sit. See what happens. Do you want the leader who sees the paper on the floor and picks it up or the one who thinks it's someone else's job, that s/he is too important to pick up the paper?

    Hiring leaders also have their gut instincts developed from many years of being in business and being "subjected to" different leaders as JLalos says above (how telling is that for the state of leadership!). Leaders should trust how they feel, that little voice that speaks to them about someone. People always reveal their character from the moment we meet them. Have we forgotten to measure the character of others? If so, it might be because we're reluctant to have our character measured ourselves.
    • Anonymous
    What I find facinating, especially of elected positions, is that often the individual who is able to navigate the political mine field may not actually be the best leader. High quality leaders may not be able to rise to the top due to poor quality leaders, peers, and subordinates around them. One might respond to that by asking, "but if they can't navigate through those pitfalls, how could they be good leaders?" That's a fair point. I would ask, "is a measure of a good leader their ability to navigate the existing system or is it in fact one's ability to see the right path and make the necessary changes to the system so that it can be more effective?" If those surrounding a person are happy with a system that pays them off in the short-term, but does not result in lasting or even current improvement to the whole, any potential leader who believes otherwise may never get the opportunity to make the "right" changes.
    • Stanley Anemelu, MBA
    I don't think in business that some people are selected as leaders without any degree of confidence. However, the question might be the level of confidence with regards to the selection. Leadership involves a lot of abilities: able to make sound judgment and good decisions; having a vision and good sense of direction; able to motivate; able to listen and communicate- just to name a few. Therefore, to be selected to a leadership position, there should be some level of confidence in one/more of the characteristics of a leader.

    I think, when it comes to leadership positions, track records will be a good indicator of how the person might perform and should play a major role in the selection process. This will also create a certain level of confidence in selecting of a leader for any business enterprise.
    • Lee Thayer
    • CEO, The Leader's Journey
    It seems to me it all depends on how one conceives of "leadership." If we take Alberto Manguel's point that leaders are "makers," creators (far more useful in this context than Gladwell's circus performance), then it can be done. Leadership is a role. If it can be articulated what the role is to accomplish, then we can do a pretty good job of selecting an incumbent. NASA can do it. They assume that the role is like a calling.

    Consider casting. Casting directors do a pretty good job. If leadership is not a role but a "job," indeed our batting average will be about average.

    I would guess, based on my forty-five years of working directly with people miscast in a leadership role, that neither the interviewers nor the candidate is working with a meaningful role description.

    What needs to be "made"? Is this person capable of that? Will she be shackled with a mediocre staff that can "buy in" or not? There are real questions that can lead to real (reliable) answers.
    • B. L. Francis
    • Partner, MSI Commercial
    The majority choose "leaders" based mistakenly on their resemblance to the people doing the choosing; we appear to be most like our peers and our leaders are most like us; as a consequence, our leaders are not chosen for what they can do, but how much they are like the people casting the vote(s). All of our political, business, and organizational leaders are cast in the light of their 'proclaimed' beliefs, organizational membership, family origin, and association with the larger group think.

    Historically, leaders are repeaters. The world is captive to enculturation, and only crisis or catastrophe gives us the will to depart the "leaders as usual" syndrome.
    • Anonymous
    I think choosing of the right "teacher" is as difficult as choosing the right CEO in business. Selecting the right people for the right seat on the bus is a constant process, because just when you think you have the right person, and have trained the right person, and have mentored the right person, he/she leaves the "bus" because the pay is too low or the conditions don't promote individual excellence! No Child Left Behind holds all educational staff accountable for student adequate yearly progress on standardized assessments.

    Selecting the right teacher means not choosing the right person for the position at that time, but rather selecting teachers who can ensure our students pass the "tests" and who prepare them for life after high school, and jobs that "have not yet been created".
    • John Arnott
    • CEO, Kronitech Systems Inc.

    I am fascinated by some of the responses (I won't pretend to have read them all) but I thought I would add a couple of observations.

    Regarding the election (and re-election) of G.W. Bush, I think that the American public chose someone who they could relate to - maybe even have a coffee with - rather than an intellectual. The economy was great, Clinton had left a great surplus, and I think everyone thought they could relax a bit. Eight years later, and in the midst of a global melt-down (and of course with Obama getting started) those decisions don't look so brilliant.

    The second example is one I was personally affected by. I had founded a technology start-up that was not going according to plan. OK but not what we had promised. Our investors were getting antsy and the Board replaced me with a man who had a gruff nature and promised them he would have it turned around in no time.

    I don't intend for this to sound like sour grapes, that is not the point, but the individual came from a manufacturing background and had no experience in the high technology sector we were in. The company was dead within a year.
    I am oversimplifying, but I believe there is a similarity in the two examples. People suspend judgement when they hear what they like to hear. All the HR principles were ignored.
    • Anonymous
    Dear colleagues,

    A top leader has to be the most confident, not afraid of internal leaders. The environment has to work as an invisible hand, supporting him, not pushing against him.
    Leaders have to show the projects they have done, not their intentions (that is just the first step)....
    • Sergiy Kadulin
    • MBA student, IBR international school
    I believe there are two important aspects which should lead to systematic and successful hiring of leaders:

    1) High level of humility and spirituality of all involved in selection and hiring. Those attributes ensure wisdom. Wisdom will help to make the right decision.

    2) Deep and broad (in scope) check of candidates' list of accomplishments and their public reputation in the market and industry. Do business partners and customers trust him or her? Ask them "why?" Don't ignore details. In many cases HR and management involved in selection just cut corners. Invest time, resources and focus, and the results will surpise you.
    • Stephanie Fuentes
    • Chief Learning Strategist, Inventivo Design, LLC
    There are more affordable ways to select, develop, reward, and retain leaders. "Leader" was not defined in this piece, and the characteristics clearly vary in each of our perspectives. We do know, however, what the results and outcomes of good leadership in our organizations should look like. While selecting leaders isn't entirely error-proof (human behavior is like that), we can absolutely define what we need in a leader for a particular organization based on the business needs of today and the future. Some organizations choose to groom internal candidates while others look outside. Plenty of HBR articles have discussed the pros and cons of this. If we don't act on these ideas, we're perpetuating a myth about leadership - that the "right" individuals will rise to the occasion and magically fit the need. I'd rather find the right person for the right occasion, and specify the kind of learning experiences and supporting infrastructure (tools, culture, behaviors, etc.) that will build the capacity for the individual to fulfill the role.

    I can define competencies, I can define outcomes, I can create a path to support the individual and the organization in executing good leadership, I can specify the measurable and demonstrable outcomes and look at contingencies. I can compare candidates based on these things. We wait too long to think about these things and wonder why it's so hard to find good leaders. It's not hard if you take the time to do the planning and preparation. It's pay now or pay later, choose one.
    • Susan Fant
    • Student, Birmingham-Southern College
    "In various studies, the truly great teachers do things like giving good, individualized feedback while remaining sensitive and responding to interactions going on around them that might indicate needs of other students. The reason that these findings are important to the field of management is that all good leaders, among other things, teach as well as learn."

    As an undergraduate senior majoring in leadership and business administration, I have found that reflective thinking and learning should be at the forefront of higher-level education. Good teachers focus on developing theories and applications, opening up unexplored areas of a topic, and indeed attend to the needs of students in terms of feedback.

    However, I have found it most effective when teachers have taught me how to learn and how to teach myself. This may rather elementary, but empowering students to understand their own learning processes may, on a certain scale, be more valuable than formulas or memorization.

    In my senior level international strategy class, we focused on the case study method. We take those case studies and apply them to what we would do given the similar situation. We also think of our own decisions in group work and how we interact with others. This idea of reflective learning has taught me how to take a decision, analyze it, and learn from it.

    Empowering employees to do the same thing should, in most cases, be what leaders strive to do. Finding and hiring leaders, who want to empower their followers should be something HR focuses on utilizing in hiring strategies.

    In regards to leaders personalities changing after being "anointed with power," it is a true problem for many organizations. I am Editor-in-Chief of the college paper and have found that some people I have hired to work on my staff have changed once power has been given to them. This shift occurred especially after I had tried to "empower" them to work more on their own.

    In retrospect, during interviews, I wish I had focused more on asking questions about previous leadership experiences and what candidates had learned from negative and positive experiences. Instead of focusing solely on experience and background, a forced reflective thinking moment would have shown if candidates had ever thought about their actions and processes after they occurred.

    In the future, I will be asking these kinds of questions if I am allowed to be a part of a hiring process. Sometimes focusing on the learning process that reflective thinking allows slips into the background of an interview. Depending on group or corporate culture little emphasis may be placed on it. The idea of thinking back on previous wins and losses may make some people uncomfortable, especially the losses part.

    Utilizing a reflective learning method -- through a process of questioning or in the academic sense assignments can help leaders to lead as effectively as possible and builds a bridge from teaching and learning to leading.
    • Kathryn Alexander
    • President, CEO, Ethical Impact, LLC
    For me the key to hiring good leaders is relationship. We hire for credentials and not for values. Being clear on the leadership needs as driven by strategy gives a good insight into the values and style that is needed. Everyone worth their salt learns on the job, so values and shared intent ensure consistent direction and alignment, the skills can be/must be learned on the job and credentials are only about skills.
    • Jo Fernandez
    • HR Practitioner, Manila, Philippines
    "Sustained success comes to the person with the biggest fire inside of them." I agree with this observation of one of the readers. And this "fire" is not a common competency HR practitioners work with comfortably. An interview checklist cannot measure the passion of an applicant to do better each day not only for himself but for the organization now and in the years to come. A classroom training or job-based exposure can only contribute to "knowing the job". The passion is gained with exposure to the most passionate existing leaders in the organization -- not to work for them but to work with them, side by side. Knowing the business brings in the customers, saves on cost and brings the profit. But the understanding of the organization's character will allow the would-be leader to vividly imagine what it can do more. This ignites the passion that a great leader is made of. The spark to ignite is the mentoring that he gets from current decision-makers - cheapest, most practical, errors are easier to spot and more accounatble for results. And closest to home.
    • Tom Dolembo
    • Consultant, Disaster Planning Assoc.
    In 1967, Henry Kissinger in Gov. 180 (Harvard College) predicted that the Vietnam war could only end by neutralizing Russia by befriending China. He predicted that the new leader of the US would have to be similar to the others in the world who had risen to power by evil means, was as nasty and irreconcilable. Nixon opened China, could relate to PRC leaders if not to us, and as predicted, the War became irrelevant. We sputtered to peace.

    The consequences of Kissinger's predictions are obvious. Many leaders rise to power by simply eliminating foes by any means, are never judged by goodness but by the most basic aggressive traits, and impress others by self aggrandizement. Chavez, Castro, Saddam, are norms. We are the only nation who actually expects goodness. We have to look within ourselves, judge if we can face the realities of leadership, and decide if this Great Experiment of ours extends to our businesses. If we measure only by quarterly results, value only individual merit, accept those to HBS who score highest in individual tests, and reward on the basis of individual performance, can we expect change? Our own Professor John Kotter discovered some years ago that leadership is a group activity, and that a system of excellence based on individual achievement was hollow.
    • Mollie, Carolee, Michael
    • Bethel University
    One of the challenges for organizations is defining characteristics and skills that they want in a leader utilizing tools or tests to match up candidates to qualifications. Many organizations resort to a gut instinct, which often leads to mismatches. Internal promotions can be successful but is not always in the best interest of the organization. We often promote people who are successful managers, but do not have the leadership qualifications the organization needs.
    • Krista and Paul
    • Graduate Students, Bethel University
    The percentage of time spent recruiting is not enough to ensure that the best candidates are being selected. More time should be spent in the recruiting process to allow for further consideration of candidate's' qualifications. In return this would lead to reduced time spent on managing talent out.

    However, we feel it is a valid point that often times true leadership skills cannot be seen in a resume. A person's personality cannot be seen on a piece of paper. That personality may or may not be what the company is looking for. The companies are faced with the task of finding round pegs for round holes. A simple glance at a resume may lead to a square peg in a round hole. Further assessment beyond the resume is key to finding the right leader.

    Paul K. and Krista K.
    Bethel University Graduate School
    M.A. in Organizational Leadership
    • Tamra & Karen
    • Graduate Students, Bethel University; MA in Organizational Leadership
    In regards to the first question, (Are there leadership jobs in business for which it is simply impossible to select people with any degree of confidence?) we feel that there is always risk in selecting the most qualified candidate. Organizations can increase their odds at selecting the right leader by doing the following:

    * Identify necessary core competencies
    * Identify necessary skill set
    * Identify experiences required
    * Identify skill gaps within current leadership team and select candidate that fills these gaps
    * Include outside perspective in the interview process (ie: customers, vendors, industry experts)
    * Create behavioral based interview
    * Conduct reference checks
    * Include a cross-section of employees within all levels of the organization in the selection process.
    * Have candidate problem solve a simulated workplace challenge or opportunity

    By taking the time to carefully select the appropriate hiring criteria, you can greatly increase success in finding the right leader.
    • Iceman
    • Middle Manager
    There is a saying in Indian culture, which goes as follows, "You need a gem to recognize a gem". I think that's so true for finding a great leader.

    Most of the times, people choose the second best option as they lack the faith, conviction or appetite for risk to choose a leader, who could have been the right choice.

    A good leader recognizes another good leader with ease, but that's the easy part. The tough part is convincing both external and internal influencers that this would be the right fit. Usually, it's the good fit which is taken.

    In my experience, proximity to the influencers and position in the power equation, play a deeper role in decision making when a leader is being chosen.

    In my current organization, there is currently a big vacuum created due to the promotion and departure of a very successful leader. He was a phenomenon, so to speak. But, currently there is no clear understanding of who the next leader would be.

    It's because he didn't create great leaders under him. Maybe, he never saw any great leaders, only saw a few good managers, whom he favored over the others, who were not comparatively good enough.

    Filling big shoes is never easy and it's easy to fall into the trap of looking inwards and playing safe. It's important to remember, this inward looking, risk-averse behavior could be the first step to stifling of creativity and growth in the organization.

    Big decisions need strong hearts. If you are weak, you will falter.

    As you get off the high chair, have the courage the crown a worthy warrior, than the weak General, who stood by your side. Your team deserves it.
    • Ganesh Ram
    • General Manager - Career Planning & Development, Oracle Financial Services Software
    The questions raised, along with many of the interesting comments, lead me to offer the following:

    1. We are clearly discussing two types of leaders/leadership here: (a) leadership as positive influence and (b) people/roles at the top of significant-sized organizations. I would like to call the former as "true leadership" and the latter as "powerful position" (some may prefer "big guns" or "top dogs"). The word "positive" in intended to encapsulate integrity, authenticity and various other good attributes we all associate with ideal leaders.

    2. At least half of the (valid and thoughtful) comments above could then be summarized by stating:
    -Big guns have often not demonstrated true leadership (e.g. Bush, Wall Street)
    -True leadership does not always get selected to powerful positions (anyway the typical pyramid org chart prevents all eligible candidates)
    -Those lacking true leadership sometimes do reach powerful position.

    3. There are many other factors (circumstantial and tactical) governing who reaches top slots. Our concern here is how to ensure that relevant attributes are used in the selection process as far as possible, and, more importantly, how to ensure that non-relevant and dangerously wrong attributes are not used in the selection process. This is where the selectors play a part. As has been pointed out, mediocrity breeds mediocrity. Unfortunately excellence does breed excellence always, because some of the best leaders may still not be the best selectors.

    4. Perhaps it is time HR gurus elucidated the key talents and competencies involved in effective people selection and leaders are trained to make sure that they include such individuals in the leader selection process.

    5. One interesting development I see: Up to about the 1980s the traditional industries had a paternalistic approach that raised people-oriented leaders, but the overall milieu was not exactly democratic, gender- and race-inclusive or meritocratic. These have to be credited to IT and the new economy industries, where leaders regularly emerge from literally any corner of the organization or the world.
    • Claudio Fernandez-Araoz
    • Senior Adviser, Egon Zehnder International
    Dear Jim,

    I was fascinated with your question and the proliferation of insightful comments it immediately generated.

    I have been an executive search consultant for over 20 years with Egon Zehnder International, having led globally successively its Management Appraisal Practice, its Professional Development, and the development of its Intellectual Capital, and I am still a senior adviser of this firm.

    But, more importantly, for over 20 years I have been fascinated exactly with your same question, perhaps due to the fact that I am from Argentina, a country full of natural and human resources which, however, is one of the most dramatic examples of decline over the last century, precisely because of an extremely poor selection of leaders at the top.

    As an author and a speaker, over the last years I have discussed this same question with thousands of CEOs and senior HR leaders in North America, Europe and Asia, not only from the corporate world but also from some of the most progressive governments on Earth.

    To put it briefly, we can't select the right leaders because we have an old brain for a new job, and an outdated education for a new world.

    Our brain is a piece of hardware which did not have any significant upgrade perhaps for 10,000 to 100,000 years. It is not very different from that of the primitive hunter-gatherer living in the savanna. As a result, when selecting leaders we fall pray into all sorts of unconscious psychological biases, which sabotage our people decisions. These include procrastination, snap-judgments, the similar-to-me effect, branding, sticking with the familiar, and several others.

    In addition, our education system has had an unbelievable blind spot while not teaching selection skills, and is clearly outdated for the current world, where most workers are knowledge workers, and the major source of value for any company are intangible assets including, yes, the right leaders at the top.

    While we spend years and years studying finance, and accounting, and marketing, and strategy, how much time do we spend building practical skills about how to select the right people for a job?

    I am truly perplexed about this fact, when making great people decisions is the most important factor for career success for any manager as well as (as some of your HBS colleagues have clearly demonstrated) the most important controllable factor having a measurable impact on company value.

    Despite the fact that we score so poorly at choosing leaders, the good news is that over the last few decades an extremely valuable body of research has dramatically improved our understanding about the best ways to choose the right leaders.

    While this is not the place to summarize them, at least I want to highlight that there is a set of best practices which will allow any board or manager to drastically improve their level of competence at selecting leaders, following a proven process which starts with deciding when a people change is needed, determining what to look for in the candidate, where and how to look for them, how to assess them, how to attract and motivate them, and how to properly integrate them into the new job.

    The problem is that those who have the knowledge (HR), don't have the power, and those who have the power (senior line managers) don't have the knowledge. Not a good formula!

    We have tried to solve this problem by empowering the knowledgeable, giving more room and power to HR. While we should still do that, that strategy is not enough, because line managers will never fully delegate their people choices, in the same way in which they don't delegate their marriage choices.

    The solution is thus to educate the powerful, educating and training line managers on the best practices for selecting leaders.

    In spite of what most people think, making great people decisions is not an art, an intuition, or the result of a gut feeling. It is a craft, and a discipline, which can be learned, and should be learned, for our career success, the value of our organizations, and for making our world a better place.
    • Anonymous
    Dear Dr. Heskett,

    You have brought up a subject that prevails today everywhere. Whether it is in the public sector or the private sector, finding a true leader is the biggest challenge. There are politicians who use their charm to win votes and pride themselves as leaders, and ending up not achieving anything. At the workplace, employees continue to look hard at individuals who identify themselves as leaders. However, the employees know if they have a leader or not. Because, the employees conduct a silent daily Performance Evaluation on their leader. No matter what the situation is - whether it is in government, a business organization, the sports field or in the battle ground, a good leader must first know the Mission Statement of the place where he/she is in.

    There are many qualities a good leader should possess. However, in a nutshell, the leader should be able to develop goals and objectives that go along with the Mission Statement, and set up strategies to meet these objectives. These are basic principles which many leaders do not follow, and they fail miserably.
    • William O. Blackwood
    • Owner, DWB & Associates
    Behavioral event interviews do an excellent job when done well. Of course, they do require knowing what we want in the future which is often the difficulty in any selection methodology.

    Two situations occur frequently:
    1. What the existing leadership states are the needs in fact are not.
    2. When the needs are accurately identified, the existing leadership find the leading candidates unacceptable because they are different from the current leadership.
    • Ciara Howie
    • Consultant, SHOORA - Family Business Advisors
    The volume of inspired responses to this topic demonstrates its relevance perfectly, especially amidst the current global panic.

    So many valid and persuasive comments have been made above, I would like to adjust one word of the question in hand to make my point and that word is 'when': Why can't we figure out When to select leaders? I think if we could, certainly commercially, then it would solve many problems. Succession planning is something that is too often ignored in organisations and perhaps the reason why the 'how' is troublesome. Picking up on the point made in comment 65, 'it takes a gem to recognise a gem', we can start to see another way of looking at this problem.
    If, for example, a serious % of a CEOs time was dedicated to seeking out and finding , or at least defining, the person best suited to replace him/her upon retirement then a lot less disruption would be caused when it came to hiring the future leader. Additionally, it might prove to be another method of self evaluation available to the learned CEO.
    • Joseph Kucic
    • Senior Vice President, Large Bank
    My view is simple in regards to hiring leaders - you hire the person with the skills to execute. The person needs to have a strong conviction to execute and the ability to communicate the vision and strategy to the organization (internal and external). If you find those qualities in a person hire him/her and get out of the way (these means they have no rules or other limitations in regards to what they can do to move the business forward).

    Too many times, we focus on the wrong qualities in hiring leaders, history does not predict the future since a leader develops over time and past mistakes improves the future abilities (examples: Pete Carroll at USC or Steve Jobs second time at Apple). In addition, specific industry knowledge while helpful in many cases is a barrier to achieving breakthrough results.
    • Anonymous
    It's hard to select a good leader, because most of it is based on the achievements and the educational attainment, knowing that this are the correct way of measuring the know-how of a good leader... We should consider a psychiatric evaluation and evaluation test or give a situation for candidates to answer... Being a leader is not a guessing system, it's a commitment to make the world evolve fairly and to give what is due to its people... It takes time to really evaluate a leader; most of the time they conceal their agendas.

    In my years as a leader, I still believe that being true to yourself and to people is still the best weapon to be a great leader... Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once.
    • Marquen Joubert
    • Senior Vice President, LynRay Engineering
    Yes. A good leader is easily spotted a mile away. The problem is that we often ask the wrong questions, and our internal compasses are sometimes off track.

    When recruiting, take the person through your organization and see how he/she carries him/herself. How does the person demonstrate true leadership and servanthood (interact with, identify localized leaders, and so on).

    Someone with the gift of leadership will not only stand out during the walk about, but when they return to the office for a post-diagnostic, they will give you a good run down of your human capital value.

    Listen to them speak, and you'll soon pick out the posers vs the true leaders.
    • Stephanie
    • Airline
    A great leader is a rare pearl - the one who is great in all circumstances. A good leader can be more easily found, but he or she may be good or great only in certain circumstances, not in all. That means it is usually difficult to translate one person's success in one company, industry, or role, to another.
    I also believe that it is very difficult to pinpoint the specific qualities that make a good leader, becuase they depend so much on the particular situation being faced. That means it is essentially impossible to have a set of specific questions that will tell you who will be a good leader in your particular situation. Therefore people rely conscioulsly or not on subjective opinion, which ends up based on charisma, how well the selectors get along with a particular candidate, perception of past performance which is usually biased, etc.. While they can be important features, they are very subjective and are far from showing the entire picture.
    • Anonymous
    Picking out a great leader is much like predicting the future. It seems to me that Malcolm Gladwell has hit the nail on the head. There is often nothing you can do to predict the results of a leader, before the person is hired.

    It may be that great leaders are formed from the combination of the facts as they proceed. The right product, the right market and the right time in the life of a specific personality. When these come together you get a sort of big bang result.
    • David Roper
    • CEO, The One Group
    Experience has taught me over many years that true, charasmatic leaders are invariably schooled and developed within the businesses which they are ultimately destined to lead. Two exemplars would be Jack Welch of GE and Rolf Huppi of Zurich.

    Certainly, leaders can be recruited from other businesses but restricting such recruitment to leaders with proven results is the only way to guarantee success. Quite simply, why would anyone recruit for a leadership role without having done their research to determine the pedigree and proven track record of candidates.
    • Paul Rattray
    • Relationship Manager
    Several of the previous comments hit the nail on the head; find the right leader for the circumstances. The spectrum lies from the military "Command and Control" through to near religious "Share and Follow".

    My bug bear is being enbedded in an organisation that has near enough rebranded all managers as leaders. This might make the individual feel empowered to do their thing, but their motives are rarely for the greater good of the organisation. Moreover, for each leader there's a separate vision, many conflicting, most confusing. Few know what the journey is to be nor if they want to go on it. But they don't worry since there will be another micro-visionary leader to follow tomorrow.
    • Pat Roche
    • Organizational Cynic, consultant
    Everyone just take a minute and ask yourself two questions: "Who are the exceptonal leaders I've been associated with?"; and "What did they do that made them exceptional?"

    We ask these questions in several trainings we conduct and the overwhwlmingly recurring themes are one slight abstraction and two age-old axioms:

    1.) Good leaders have passion and purpose. (This is the abstraction. It is harder to quantify or qualify this characterisitic depending on the context of any given organization- but it certainly should not be a surprise to anyone that people want to be inspired by their leaders.)

    2.) The Golden Rule. (No matter how academic and self-important we want to sound when discussing leadership, the way we would like to be treated is usually how the people we lead would like to be treated. Is this concept really so complicated that it requires studies, and systems, and eternal debate?)

    3.) Practice what you preach. (Raise your hand if you've ever been a witness/unwilling partcipant/victim of an "organizational culture change (OCC)". Keep your hand up if that OCC failed because it was pitched with passion but practiced with selective support. That's a lot of hands.)

    So what does this mean to selecting leaders?

    First of all, start by asking candidate the same two questions.

    Next, I agree with everyone who posted comments about identifying criteria and creating measures and tools to assess performance and vet character. Just make sure that criteria, tools, and measures are built around the three themes above, and understand that the people who are hiring any leader have to enter into a relationship with their new hire that is commited to those same three themes. Even leaders want to be supported, treated fairly, and inspired by those who hire them.
    • Josh Levine
    • MBA 2007, HBS
    From my own experience, I am struck by an example of when IDENTIFYING a successful leader is almost a certainty (yet he/she is sometimes not SELECTED). The military. If you ask 20 young lieutenants who among them is destined to be the 4-star general, you will get an almost unanimous answer. Ask the subordinates of that anointed one, and if they agree - you've found your next Eisenhower. Guaranteed. I believe there are two reasons for this: 1) a demonstrated mastery of leadership, and 2) a demonstrated mastery of the organization (particularly its culture).

    So why aren't the senior ranks filled with Pattons? It's the x-factors. Internal politics, organizational bias, and self-selection to leave the military I say are the biggest three.

    So how do we apply this observation to business?

    1. Give managers real leadership challenges early. Early experience is important - the earlier the more it becomes ingrained. And see how they do. Begin the thinning process early.

    2. Track your high achievers. Do they gravitate towards certain career paths? Are your competitors stealing them? Are you driving them away?

    3. Ask the right people. Jack Welch chose Jeff Immelt over Bob Nardelli for a reason. Why didn't anyone at Home Depot or Chrysler consider this important? In 2006 Newsweek did an in-depth story on Home Depot and Nardelli. Simply by reading that article I knew they were in trouble. There's no universal answer for WHO to ask, but get out and ask a lot of people. Chances are you already know a few people throughout your organization that get it. But make sure you include a candidate's peers and subordinates!

    Choosing your organizations next great leader can be made much easier if you truly know what to look for, and HOW to search.
    • Dean Madison
    • CEO, TD Madison & Associates
    Why Can't We Figure Out How to Select Leaders?

    Is that really the first question we should be asking? Or should we start by asking what are we trying to achieve as an organization? As a SR level Recruiter with 25 plus years of experience, we have discovered that while most hiring officials can tell you what they are looking for on paper, they have a much harder time describing what they want the person to achieve within the position. Secondly, I think by human nature we want to believe that a successful hire is someone who will last for many years and through many different cycles. Third, we want to focus all our energies evaluating a candidate's potential by conducting in-depth behavioral based interviews using psychometrics to predict their personalities and conducting background checks along with references. However, we spend little time thinking about the impact of the existing team, the culture of the organization and how they impact the success or failure of the new hire.

    By first starting with what the Board or CEO has set as the operational objective, you can began to evaluate individuals that bring relevant experiences to the opportunity. As an example, with the current business climate, we will see the need for more executives that have a mastery of turning around companies. I would think most business executives would agree that someone with those skills and personalities are not what you would be seeking for someone that will lead an organization through a growth period. Companies will need different leaders for different times in the various phases of the life cycle of the organization. This translates to difference experiences and different personalities. Once those individuals complete their task, its time for them to move to the next opportunity.

    Lastly, very little time is given to what the team really needs to lead the organization to success. The SR Leader is only one aspect of the team, and they must complement the existing team or be prepared to bring in the right individuals that balance their experiences along with their personality. If the new leader does not have a well balanced team that aligns with the company's goals, as well as its culture, it will greatly hinder the likelihood of success.

    While it may never be possible to 100% predict a successful hire, by following a well thought out process that incorporates goals and objectives, culture and personalities, you can greatly improve the odds of predicting success.
    • Dick Meza
    • Adjunct Faculty, Chapman University College
    Hi Jim! I don't know why either because the selection and evaluation process has already been figured out
    and tested ("how to") by well-known leadership thinkers
    and practitioners. The issue here may be the degree
    to which senior management cares about selection. High
    quality leadership selection, if really done right, is very
    time consuming and can be quite expensive. In reality,
    all selection strategies chosen are often ones that maxi-
    mize individual agendas and allow incumbents to retain
    power. This may allow potentially derailing leaders to
    slip into organizations and fail. There is no "dream"
    leadership selection formula. Most organizations make
    mistakes in the way they handle various parts of a
    selection model. This leads to the conclusion that the
    most effective leadership hiring programs are lead by
    leaders who make the fewest mistakes--which are
    usually ones that care the most. To fix the problem
    may be to find the one that cares the most about the importance of leadership selection.

    Leadership selection (like teaching) is an unflaggingly
    difficult art--inherently dangerous and largely unsung.
    If it were only the transmission of skills and knowledge,
    selection would be a vocation by and for journeymen.
    But it is more: the evocation of promise and performance
    by leaders who care about people and about the green tree of organizational life.
    • Bill Flynn
    • CEO, Paeon Partners, LLC
    I hear lots of things here that are very familiar. And a little that isn't. Just as an example, Mr. Madison in Comment 80 has some new thinking in terms of the value of the Team and considering what the Team needs.
    What usually travels along this path of not thinking about the Team is thinking Leadership is some form of Competence. From my perspective, Competence is a 20th Century value. Back then (yes, all of ten years) the needs were to solve operational problems. Engineers solved most of those problems. And not just the MIT types. There are other kinds of engineers. They are primarily systems people.
    Since most of us are college people, we understand systems pretty well; thus focusing on managing systems leads to more frustration than anything else.

    What we need to become is Process People. Our greatest needs are to participate in Process with other educated, experienced people to integrate our mental and emotional Processes to achieve the objective. This is really not Competency, since evaluation of an individual can only be accomplished by a member of the Process Team. And the Team can be evaluated as a unit.

    So, there is a Leader that empowers the Team and a Team of Members that rotate in the position of Leader depending on the assignment and the situation.

    So, I claim Leadership and Management are two different things and need to be treated as such.
    • Sandesh N Shringarpure
    Appropriate leadership has become a challenge as the leadership by succession is getting diluted in many organizations. This is primarily for fast track and quick value gain oriented organizations. This gets some cushioning due to organization's mere size and controlling stake. The same may be resultant of past preferential treatments (Licenses / patents etc.). However, over a period of time the growth may be below optimal level, however the same goes unnoticed on account of absolute positional advantage gained. It may be quite possible that inappropriate leadership over a period of time may open flood gates for competition. Indian Textile Industry may be a close example which can not come out with long labour strike. However, the period in which burnt are faced may be prolonged over a period of years and the decay may be noticed with lesser pinch. As the pinch is not felt so much the utmost need to have good leader at top is diluted by major extent. This dilution leads to lesser cautious efforts and planning to have "optimum leadership style" over long time period. The optimum leadership here means the style which balances short term and long term expectation and delivers the same to diversified stakeholders namely , shareholders, employees, unions, government, society etc.
    • Anonymous
    Leaders emerge and cannot be selected.
    To spot the leader you have to be one.
    Leaders know where they want to go... so to select them there needs to be a synergy between your and the leader's vision
    Thinking deep & accepting change should be organizational culture to be able to select leaders.
    • Andrew Obara
    • Director, FRIENDS consult Ltd, Uganda
    Good and insightful topic. It is always easy to interpret non-performance or professional deficiency of a would-be leader in terms of their traits and aptitudes. What about the traits, aptitutes and competence of te recruiter , mentor or senior colleague? The most natural law that applies to almost every physical, sociological or spiritual situation is the law of attraction - you attract what you are, not necessarily what you want. At the time of recruiting, a non-leader in a leadership position will subconciously be attracted more to a candidate with non-leadership qualities than to one with leadership qualities.

    The other point is that to some extent, leadership is a combination of both natural endowment and learning. To the extent that leadership can be learnt, even people with modest leadership qualities can become effective leaders - as long as the pace, direction and learning opportunities and clearly provided from the top.
    • Edward Hare
    • Retired Director, Strategy and Planning, Fortune 300 Mfr'r.
    The subject of leadership always seems to draw intense interest and thoughtful observations. I suspect it's because we all yearn for leaders of competence and integrity and there seem to be so few we can point to as examples anymore.

    Identifying great leaders often goes awry because we don't understand motives and it's near impossible to predict behavior in complex and unfamiliar situations. Far too often "leaders" are chosen who won't rock the boat and have demonstrably shown they will cling to the status quo. Organizations like predictability, regardless of the rhetoric. One generation of leaders replace themselves with those who look and act like they do. It's a kind of fraternity that revolves around comfort and motives that will not be acknowledged.

    For all the "science" around leadership, who can predict how an individual will react in situations that are outside what we've experienced? And how many aspiring leaders are not genuine or authentic? They're the ones that scare me. Those who will exhibit any behavior, play any part, in order to "get ahead". That chameleon effect is difficult and time consuming to detect and is, in my experience, a central reason why the ranks of leadership is so rightfully held in low regard.
    • Daniel Pi
    When thinking about leadership, we should not forget the implicit fact that leaders are human beings, and that finding a perfect leader is as difficult as finding a perfect human being.

    Even with the best intentions, systems and selection methods it is inevitable that we may select the 'wrong' leader. Perhaps a more pragmatic approach is to acknowledge that leaders will inevitably make mistakes but a superior leader is one that is aware of his or her weaknesses and will lead in manner so as to manage their weaknesses.
    • Dr. Hemjith Balakrishnan
    • Group. Sr. Vice President (Strategy & HR), Health Prime International
    Very interesting article for discussion. A recapitulation of history - Leadership and theatrics owes it inheritance to Aristotle (350 BC) with his work on "Poetics". According to Aristotle, leaders perform all six poetic parts of theatre such as - Plot/character /Theme /Dialog /Rhythm /Spectacle. Much later we had the Arbinger Institute come out with their work on "Leadership & Self-Deception" (2002) which introduced all of us to yet another concept in the way organizations function. It highlighted how problems that typically prevent superior performance in organizations are the result of a little-known problem called "self- deception." According to the authors, people who are in self-deception live and work as trapped in a box. Blind to the reality around them, they undermine performance--both their own and others'. The problem is, being in the box they can't see that they undermine performance. Consequently, they don't change, and neither do their results. Leadership and Self-Deception shows what self- deception is, how people get trapped in it, how it kills organizational performance, and--most importantly--the surprising way to solve it. We had yet another notion that "All Leadership Development is "Self development" and we had Noel Tichy with his notion of "Transformational leadership" one which exists for change, innovation and entrepreneurship. Put forward by Noel Tichy as follows:

     leaders are visionaries
     leaders identify themselves as change agents,
     they are courageous individuals,
     they believe in people,
     they are value driven,
     they are life-long learners
     and they have the ability to deal with complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty.

    In today's age of business turmoil, once again we are looking at people who have the R's in place - Resilience (the first R) to withstand all the R's - re-inventing, re-engineering, re-structuring and right-sizing to survive (if not flourish) in any unprecedented crisis situation. How to identify the R competencies are the biggest challenge for all Organisations today and in times to come.