Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Who to Hire, Part 2

In my March 22 blog I made the case that in today’s nanosecond knowledge economy, companies need to hire for overall talent, not just for basic skills and experiences. But operationalizing this nebulous term “talent” (not to mention “overall talent”) is difficult. In my last book, The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, I believe I documented the best practical definition of this term.

When Powell was still an officer in the military, he made a very insightful comment about the kind of people to hire--the people who are likely to be your great performers, the people who are likely to act as leaders regardless of their rank or function, the people who one day might well be running the show. In my book I called it “Powell’s Rules for Picking People”. Here’s what he said:

“Look for intelligence and judgment and, most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.”

Nicely said. Clean. Sparse. And accurate. Consider the elements:

 “Intelligence and judgment”. Note the juxtaposition of terms. Intelligent, but not in a vacuum. Intelligent, as in—sharp and savvy enough to analyze quickly, learn fast, and then make clear practical judgments.
 “Capacity to anticipate, to see around corners.” Able to look ahead, to make sense of trends and fleeting opportunities in the distance; willingness to prepare for tomorrow's realities while addressing today’s. In a world where change is constant, I'm not surprised that Powell rates these attributes as the most critical.
 “Loyalty and integrity.” Once again, a great juxtaposition of terms. Loyalty is not about blind conformity or obedience. Speak your mind. Argue. But once a decision is made, “loyalty and integrity” is about someone who others know they can count on. Someone who’ll walk the talk. Someone who can be trusted after he or she leaves the room.
 “High energy drive.” Enthused, passionate, “up”, willing to persist.
 “Balanced ego”. A strong ego, yes--necessary for self-confidence, for galvanizing others to action, for overcoming hurdles, for pushing back against resistance and negativity, for taking risks. Egocentric or egomaniac—as in self-absorption, self-aggrandizement, and “me as #1”—no. To balance a strong ego with a sense of humility is the essence of balance.
 “Drive to get things done.” Goal-oriented, performance-driven, merit-conscious; being willing to learn new things, to try new things, and to venture into risky territory in order to achieve a mission.

In an earlier article on Powell’s Rules for Picking People, I wrote:

How often do our recruitment and hiring processes tap into these attributes? More often than not, we ignore them in favor of length of resume, degrees and prior titles…..You can train a bright, willing novice in the fundamentals of your business fairly readily, but it’s a lot harder to train someone to have integrity, judgment, energy, balance and the drive to get things done. Good leaders stack the deck in their favor right in the recruitment phase.

Next week I’ll talk about the final element in this mix: the “fit” between talented people and the organization they work in.


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