Hire for Attitude

Leadership Excellence

Does your hiring process give you the flexibility to assess a candidate’s attitude before you make a hiring decision?

I am reading Richard Branson’s book, “The Virgin Way”.  Richard is held in high regard for his leadership, and one of the best practices he advocates is to ‘hire for attitude’.

Richard tells a story of a friend of his who forced his HR department to change their hiring practices when he discovered a remarkable woman who had been turned down for employment in his company because she did not pass their test.  They ultimately hired the woman and she advanced quickly through their organization.


A number of years ago I was working for a prestigious consulting firm in Calgary, Alberta.  We recruited from the University of Calgary as well as other universities in western Canada.  In my first year there I was put in charge of the recruiting process.  Our process included soliciting resumes from business students, selecting 20 candidates to interview on campus, and then selecting 8 to come to our office for further interviews.  We would offer jobs to 4 of the 8 we brought into the office.

Selecting 20 candidates out of 200 – 300 resumes was not easy.  Getting from 200 to 40 was not a problem but deciding on the final 20 sometimes involved a coin flip.  After we informed the university of the 20 candidates we wanted to interview, one of those whom we had not selected called our offices to find out why he had not been selected.

The manager who had screened the resumes and made the cut to 20, came into my office to inform me of the phone call.  He told me that when he told the young man that he did not qualify because he did not make it through the screening process, the young man told him that he had “made a mistake.”  He added that he would be the best employee that we ever hired.

The manager went on to tell me that when he reviewed the young man’s resume he could not determine why he had not been selected other than that he had been on the wrong end of one of those coin flips.

We decided that we would add the young man, his name was Ken, to our interview list.

Ken did an amazing job in his on-campus interview and we invited him into the office.  He continued to do well in the office interview, so we offered him a job.  Four years later Ken was promoted to manager, ahead of his peers.

One of the characteristics of strong leaders is that they are willing to challenge existing processes and take risks.  Hiring people frequently involves taking risk as very few people fit perfectly into the job description you have defined.


Does your hiring process give you the flexibility to assess a candidate’s attitude before you make a hiring decision?



Leadership Excellence Trust

shutterstock_168606473Successful leaders know how to empower the members of their team.  They know that they will not succeed unless they do.



Understanding and Accountability

“If you have a common understanding of the mission and vision, and have conducted a deliberate exercise to create strategies to execute the mission and create the vision, then you have a basis for communication and a basis for accountability and measurement.” – Hank Holland

To get to the heart of the matter, I went back to the leader who had done the best job of empowering his team and accomplishing the goals he set out to achieve. When I asked Hank about empowerment and ownership, Hank first honed in on the importance of clear communication. He held a number of jobs where the people he hired came to him with a plethora of backgrounds and experiences. Hank always took time to ensure his expectations were understood. He realized the negative impact on performance that would result when people were unclear on what was expected of them. Hank was a strong proponent of empowerment. He taught me how important it was for senior executives to focus on strategic issues and delegate as much as possible to the people on their team. He was always encouraging me to stay out of the weeds.
Accountability Is Part of Empowerment

Hank also told me that he thought the word accountability needed to be added alongside empowerment and ownership, and that to some extent, the three words were synonyms. He has always been a strong proponent of processes. As he talked me through his philosophy, he said it started with a clear understanding of the organization’s mission and vision. He was quick to point out that he was not talking about a vision in the grandiose sense – but more like a target. He said, “Where do we want to be in three years, and what will that look like?” He then walked me through a process, which took the mission and vision down to quarterly goals that could be measured. “After that, it is all about execution.”
The Characteristics of Empowerment

Before Hank went any further, he reflected upon the times in his career when he was empowered or empowered others. He said:
“I asked myself in those situations what characteristics were always in play. To me, there was always an element of trust; there was always an element of open communication and mutual respect, which would go along with trust.”
He added that when it came to processes he had always been a big believer in the mission, vision, strategy, objectives, goals, and milestones way of doing things.
To facilitate open communication, which is required to monitor the achievement of the goals and objectives, both the leader and the subordinate need to be in total agreement on what the goals are. Once they both buy in to the goals and how they will be measured, they have a basis for the communication that needs to take place. Having worked under Hank’s “system,” I was very appreciative of the kind of dialogue about achieving goals that occurred on a regular basis. These discussions were not without some stressful moments, particularly when something unexpected came up, but in no way did the discussions come across as micro-managing. Having regular sessions to review achievements against a plan sent a message that the goals were important and hitting the milestones was a necessary part of reaching the goals. These sessions also enabled mid-course corrections, which were frequently needed to get activities back on track.
The Process Conversation

Hank brought the discussion back to educating and enabling by reminding me of the goal that he and I had worked on at Landmark. He recalled asking me to tell him what we needed to achieve the goals we were committing to. He expected that a big part of it would be training. Not surprisingly, he was right. Given that we would be growing the organization from sixty to three hundred and sixty consultants, we would need a lot of training to deliver quality solutions to our clients. “An executive needs to understand what his team needs.”