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Unlock Hidden Talent by Hiring for These Five Traits

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Nothing good comes from a bad hire. However, there’s more to a perfect candidate than their resume. You have to screen for passion, finding top talent who are devoted to achieving the best for a company while maintaining a strong moral compass—especially for key leadership positions.

On a recent visit to a certain company president’s 32ndfloor office, I couldn’t help but admire the view. The sprawling city skyline stretched out as a perfect backdrop to the office of one of the most experienced players in the pharma industry. It was then that he did something that impressed me.

He flipped the conversation with a simple question:

Why do we recommend the particular executives and leaders that we do?

Despite his years of experience in business, he was still looking for a fresh take on one of the oldest challenges in recruitment: seeking my opinion on what makes a perfect hire. The “secret sauce” we’re searching to find in every candidate recommended to a client.

Because in recruitment, one size doesn’t fit all.

Our goal is to bring in the perfect people: top talent who are able to quickly and effectively make a positive impact on their new company. Leaders who we trust will be proactive in developing a hardworking culture and creating a sense of ownership in their teams.

Traits like these you can’t train for; they need to be recruited.

The benefits of a strong leadership team

There is no doubt that a strong leadership team provides the foundation for an organization’s success.

Not only do great leaders shape and influence their teams with their own positive attitudes, they also charge and motivate their staff to achieve more than they ever thought was possible. Steve Jobs’ leadership took Apple from a company on the brink of bankruptcy to the household brand it is today.

But not only this. Great leaders are able to recognize the challenges and obstacles facing a business and devise the strategies needed to prevail. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp used his role as CEO of Lego Group to diversify their product offerings and regain a competitive edge in a dramatically changing industry. Other toy companies did not fare so well.

Albert Einstein summarizes leadership rather well in his comments, which include, “The leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity … out of discord, harmony … and out of difficulty, opportunity.”

Great leaders provide balance within a workplace; they are able to find harmony while positioning a company for success. Here’s what to look for to ensure that your next leadership hire is a star performer.

They prioritize integrity above all else.

Open any study on leadership qualities and you’ll find a common theme: integrity. Employees want their leaders to act with honor, treat their staff well, and have strength of character to always do what’s best for the business. Your leaders must value integrity above all else.

Warren Buffett is a businessman in a rather unique position. As a billionaire investor, he has more CEOs working for him than anyone else in the world. When choosing senior staff, Buffet says there are only three characteristics that matter: integrity, intelligence, and energy. But it’s the first that’s most important. If the candidate lacks integrity, intelligence and energy will be their downfall.

Looking a little closer to home, Haruo Naito, the president of Eisai, is after a similar set of values in his successor; more specifically, “a candidate blessed with luck and good fortune.” Upon deeper investigation, we can see that it’s Naito’s belief that luck and good fortune will shine on anyone who is passionate, enthusiastic, and, most importantly, puts the needs of the patient first. That’s real integrity in the pharmaceutical game; it is a trait that those who have experienced massive success in business believe is vital to great leadership.

They have a passion for and are dedicated to their purpose.

Ask any successful leader their secret, and you’ll be surprised at how many cite passion. A belief in the importance of their work that is fueled by a passion for what they do. They don’t consider their job a “job” per se; rather, they consider it a chance to follow their true calling.

Passionate leaders who are dedicated to their cause are ultimately those who go on to achieve massive success, revolutionizing industries and changing the face of the business world. American investor Charles Schwab believes “a person can succeed at almost anything for which they have unlimited enthusiasm,” a thought that highlights an important point.

Passion does more than instill a fire in people. Truly passionate leaders excite the whole organization, creating an energy and buzz that is almost contagious. Drawing people in and getting teams enthusiastic and motivated by results are hard to miss. Passion is the key to building an organization that can withstand the test of time. Look for passion in your recruits.

They can do more than talk a big game.

In Good to Great, I was pleased to see authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras debunk the effectiveness of the flamboyant, take-no-prisoners leadership style. Their research backed up what I believe: it’s the leaders who do more than talk a big game who go on to have the most success.

Operating quietly in the background, unassuming leaders have transformed ordinary organizations into some of the very best companies in the world. Yet, colleagues would still describe these leaders as “reserved” and “awkward in public”, despite their real-world results.

When recruiting for leadership positions, skip the larger-than-life personalities. Smart recruiters look for humility: the hardworking, quiet achievers who have an iron will to accomplish everything they’ve set out to achieve.  You don’t want “rock star” executives. Find leaders so confident in themselves and their abilities that they don’t need to be brash and brazen about it.

They can forge a winning team.

The best-performing teams share a common trait: synergy. First coined by ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, the concept of synergy is rather simple. By working together, everyone can achieve more. Good leadership is fundamental to creating synergy within an organization.

The short-lived leadership of Søren Celinder at Pfizer in Japan during the 2000s is a prime example of an executive appointment gone horribly wrong. When Pfizer brought Hiromitsu Iwasaki out of retirement to put itself back on track, we noted Celinder’s sentiments: “Operational results are important, but building trust (with our employees) is equally important.”

Bringing together a winning team is a defining leadership characteristic. It doesn’t matter if a candidate has a successful track record in building products or future leaders. If a leader cannot create synergy or bring teams together, their tenure will not be a success.

They can withstand a little due diligence.

As recruiters, our work is almost like detective work, as we spend our time researching not only our companies and their needs but also prying into candidates, asking the right questions, reading between the lines, and doing our due diligence to determine whether a particular candidate for a specific placement is in a position to excel.

Information is paramount in any industry, but none more so than in recruitment. Nobuyuki Baba, former president of Novartis, is renowned for not only his passion but also his in-depth knowledge of Japanese physicians. His background was put to good use with the hugely successful launch of Diovan. Finding the right partners was key to the success of his company’s product.

In addition to the enormous amount of data we generate throughout screening and interview processes, our techniques have been designed to drill into our candidates’ specific achievements, uncovering their beliefs and getting a feel for their actual value beneath their brass exteriors.

One of the best tests to determine a candidate’s leadership ability is to reach out to their former subordinates. Of course, confidentiality is a priority, but if you’re able to find someone who has moved on from the candidate’s previous company, the conversation will be much more enlightening than a formal reference check with a past boss, whose “on-the-record” answers may be riddled with various agendas. Arm yourself with the information you need to hire top-performing leaders.

Finding top leadership talent requires more than simply ticking off a set of boxes on a job ad. If you’re wanting true success with a recruit, you need to ensure that they…

  1. Value integrity above all else;
  2. Have a passion for and are dedicated to their purpose;
  3. Do more than talk a big game;
  4. Are able to forge a winning team; and
  5. Can withstand a little due diligence.

The specifics of a particular job can always be taught. However, real talent, the hidden gems and high achievers you’re looking for to help you take your company to the next level, possess these five traits. Hire these candidates, and your business will be primed for success.

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