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A Primer: How to Hire the Wrong Leader

They say "one bad apple spoils the bunch." Business success hinges on good leaders, yet all too often they hire the wrong one. Here are 10 reasons why.

Yes, we’re in a complex business environment. But when was the last time that owning or running a thriving business was simple?

Among other factors, the current state of our businesses has been impacted by decisions that we made yesterday. We’re now in the midst of tomorrow’s yesterday. So how do we now engage the leaders we’ll need for what’s next?

Every aspect of business hinges on leadership, yet all too often organizations hire a wrong leader. How do they get it so wrong?

  1. To start, there’s the seduction by a candidate’s appearance, presence or affability. Business owners or leaders could be wowed by a candidate’s education, or the reputation of a former employer, distracting from an essential focus on their track record.

  2. Let’s not look just at the job titles they’ve held, but what they did with the opportunities and how they actually impacted their organizations.

  3. In what can be a rush to see how quickly a job can be filled, businesses may not question the whys and hows of a candidate’s claimed accomplishments.

  4. They also may not take the time for their colleagues to interview the candidates. Additionally, time may not be taken to check references or have background checks performed.

  5. Did they test the candidate ‘s willingness to leave their current employer?

  6. In the rush to a selection, too often they have chosen the first candidate that looked good, and didn’t seek out others for comparison. Did they miss the opportunity to find the best fit for their organization?

  7. Of course, there’s the other extreme where a business did not recruit with a sense of urgency. Some owners or executives believe that they’re the only one pursuing a great candidate.

  8. Businesses may also fail to sell the opportunity to candidates.

  9. How will a prospective employee fit or affect company culture? Simplistically a misguided hiring decision can come down to “can they do the job or can’t they?” We do need to worry about the disasters that grow from a culture misfit. Can we really assume that anything that’s wrong with the candidate can be fixed once they’re on board?

  10. Going into a key recruitment, there’s often a narrow concentration placed on people in companies of the same size or the same industry. If the business objective is to grow, there’s going to be a need for leadership experienced in growing and running a larger enterprise. Additionally, limiting the candidate pool to one industry may miss the opportunities to engage unique ideas, viewpoints and perspectives that could differentiate the business.

When it comes to making a job offer, some business owners or executives may unilaterally decide what a candidate is worth and drive to hire as cheaply as possible, missing key factors including the prospect’s current compensation, and what pay level the market may be commanding. (There can also be a shortsightedness of what it will take to keep a new leader once you have them.)

In any recruitment effort, gut feel remains invaluable. If there’s something about a candidate that just doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Don’t think you can change it. Don’t do it.

For any great leaders you do hire, don’t assume they won’t then be courted by some other opportunity. Their previous employer may have assumed the same thing.


Stan Davis is the Founding Principal of Standish Executive Search, a New England-based firm that advises business owners, executives and boards who are positioning their companies for accelerated growth, change or succession.

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