How often have you seen someone with great credentials and buzz land a top job, only to have people before long wonder, "Just what were we thinking?" James Citrin and Julie Hembrock Daum have in their decades as executive search specialists seen many firms make classic mistakes when hiring a CEO or leader of a key function such as HR, finance, marketing or technology.
In You Need a Leader—Now What?: How to Choose the Best Person for Your Organization, the two identify the most common pitfalls:
1. Falling prey to the job candidate's charisma: Recognize that charisma is like nectar on a flower attracting bees for pollination. It does have value for a leader, especially in areas such as sales, public speaking and raising money from investors. But being able to light up a room just by walking into it is no substitute for skills in vital areas such as developing sound strategies, making tough decisions and providing effective feedback to your direct reports.
2. Considering only people with a consistent record of success:You'll unnecessarily limit your pool of potentially attractive candidates if you rule out anyone who has experienced a major setback or failure. You should consider the circumstances surrounding the failure and whether the candidate made bad decisions that led to it or made the best of a weak hand. A candidate who learned valuable lessons from a failure might be better suited to deal with adversity than someone who has known only smooth sailing. And there's another advantage to a candidate who has suffered a significant setback: she's highly motivated to succeed in order to reclaim her reputation.
3. Being divided on what you're looking for: The authors write about a CEO candidate whom a not-for-profit institution was keen to hire, only to be stunned when the candidate withdrew from the process. Lacking a decent second choice, the institution had to start over. The favoured candidate withdrew because he spotted something the hiring committee had not: it was divided about whether it was looking for a visionary who would focus on raising the institution's profile externally or a managerial master who would get the institution's internal operations in order. The not-for-profit could have avoided this fiasco by having a clear discussion and reaching a consensus about the sort of leader it was seeking before beginning the hiring process.
4. Bringing in an outsider as heir apparent: If you need to go outside your firm to find a new leader, it seems logical to hire someone into a senior role such as COO and then promote him to CEO in a year or two. But this rarely works. It's tough to find someone who has the capability and experience to assume the top spot yet is willing to come in as No. 2. And someone who does agree to this typically lacks the authority a company grants to an outsider coming in as CEO: a change mandate to make swift and unpopular people decisions and challenge long-held strategies. Better to make him top dog right off the bat.