Friday, May 20, 2016

A Great Interview Technique for Leadership

During a job search last year, I happened to be presented with the best interview question that I think I have encountered in my career.  As I was conversing with the recruiter in my second round with him, he asked me the following: “In one word or small phrase, please provide me three examples of the best boss that you ever had.”

I have been fortunate to have worked for some incredible CEOs in my history, thus I provided the recruiter with an amalgam of their traits. “Humble,” I said as my first example. “Impeccably, honest, ethical and moral. Finally, deep care about his team.” “Tell me more about ‘humble’,” the recruiter inquired. “Easy,” I replied, “This CEO was extremely comfortable in his own skin, and confident in his leadership. As such, he didn’t have the need to be the smartest guy in the room. In fact, in many instances, he didn’t want to be. He hired experts, then depended on them to execute. That being said, he was constantly seeking knowledge, and was never afraid to learn, even by asking questions that to others may have seem rudimentary.”

“Great,” the recruiter responded, “Let’s do the same exercise, but this time for your worst boss.” Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), I had good experiences with CEOs that were, in my opinion, train wrecks. Again, I presented an amalgam of their traits. “Massive ego. A chaos creator. A vulgar screamer.” “What does ‘chaos creator’ mean?” asked the recruiter. “This particular CEO wasn’t happy unless there was conflict. He’d take overt steps to pit departments against each other. I believe he felt conflict made for a better result, but in actuality, the amount of time spent posturing and playing political games ended up taking far more time than what was spent on actually driving the business.”

At that point the recruiter went about asking more mundane questions, and in the middle of it I interrupted him, as I was curious about the exercise we had just completed. The recruiter stated, “I ask these questions of all of serious candidates. In my experience, those positive traits of previous leaders are the things candidates model their leadership after. Likewise, the negative traits are those things that have been burned into the candidate to the point where they’d never employ them in their leadership style. In essence, instead of a candidate telling me what kind of leader they are, I dig a little deeper and get what I feel is better insight, and see for myself what kind of leader they’ll be.”

What great insight! Is it perfect? No, there’s not an interview question or technique that is. But it does provide a unique perspective. Likewise, for the candidate, it gives a lot of fodder for examining what they have learned by the leadership of others.

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