5 Ways the Most Amazing CEO Will Make the Worst Hire



The biggest factor determining the success or failure of any CEO is his or her ability to recruit and hire well. High performance leadership requires mastery of an entire set of skills. Recruiting is one of those leadership competencies that can be developed, cultivated and mastered. To dabble in something as important as an executive hire will likely leave you in a similar crisis as having dabbled in something else that is of critical importance like tax planning, surgery or electrical work.

Learning to do new things on your own is part of a growth mindset and is laudable. There are also things that become dangerous without the expert guidance of a master. Doing your own electrical work in your home without having the proper know-how can cause a fire or even death. You might dabble in home repair, but when your house is a fire hazard, it is time to call in a professional. Recruiting executive leadership is one of those things that is best done with mastery.

Your Board might be sending you resumes and making introductions to potential candidates. While you feel obligated to meet those candidates, making a hire based on these recommendations is nothing more than glorified low-level recruiting. Level 1 and Level 2 recruiting consist of broadcasting openings and relying on a blunt, passive strategy of referrals and networking. There is a better way of recruiting and that is Level 3 Recruiting. Level 3 Recruiting™ is about a refined selection process, precision extraction and securing top 1 percent of A-plus executive leaders

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

― Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations

Even the best CEOs, without having mastered executive recruitment or bringing in help from an expert recruiter, hire the wrong people all the time. These are the top 5 reasons why a CEO’s executive search might end in disaster:

  1. Confirmation Bias

Harboring confirmation bias can severely impact your ability to make the best hire decision. It can render you blind to any evidence that disproves your preexisting opinions about a person. Like begets like, and sometimes leaders make the mistake of looking for someone like themselves. You might like a candidate as a person (vs. a solver of a particular type of problem set). This causes leaders to overestimate skills and capabilities on the basis of “understanding” how they tick. They have a blind loyalty to the new hire because they see themselves in the new hire. Using your gut is not as reliable as a clear process of unbiased evaluation. Keep an open mindset so that you can make a fair judgement call on a candidate with all the evidence available to you.

  1. Unknown Potential

People make the mistake all the time of seeing something flashy on a resume that they give importance to that they should not. I call this ‘unknown potential,’ and it bears no importance in a hiring decision. Let’s say a candidate has a Nobel Peace Prize. That is amazing. But you need to hire a CFO to align business and finance strategy. If that candidate has never held financial leadership, then the fact that he or she has a Nobel Peace Prize bears absolutely no importance in the context of your CFO search.

  1. To Build Harmony

Harmony cannot exist without excellence. The way to have harmony is by focusing first and foremost on performance excellence for results. This is best achieved when you make hiring decisions based on a Core Fit Process™ and prioritize core values over technical chops. A CEO or founder might try to build a foundation of harmony in order to achieve operational excellence. They try excessively to coach the new hire into success and to get everyone else to play nice with the new hire. This is a mistake. Ultimately, it is a commitment to both excellence and harmony, with excellence in priority, that creates high performance. In a culture of excellence, employees can trust and rely on each other. They do not have to worry whether their teammates will come through. They do not clash over poorly executed projects. Rather, a focus on excellence magnifies the definiteness of purpose and accelerates productive collaboration on a team.

  1. Top MBA

It is important to validate high skill, technical chops and execution capabilities rather than assuming that someone with a top degree can deliver results. Emotional intelligence and the ability to understand the unwritten social contracts necessary for getting work done do not come bundled with a top MBA. The variables that exist at one company where someone might have been successful are completely different from the variables that exist at any other company. Beware of political beasts who prefer to work on “strategy” and seek to align themselves with the most powerful people in the organization — all in an effort to avoid rolling up their sleeves and actually doing the hard work of execution. These masters of intellectual seduction will wield their Ivy League degrees to woo their strategic targets and gain the prestige they desire. This sense of entitlement and unwillingness to get real work done will ultimately destroy enterprise value at your business.

  1. Crazy Good Technical Chops

It is tempting to hire candidates for their crazy good technical chops. People who are spectacular individual contributors with crazy good technical chops come in 2 flavors: those with blind spots and those wearing a mask. If they have blind spots and are coachable they can be among your best hires. Those wearing a mask are doing so to protect their egos. Select your hires based on their ability and desire to achieve your mission rather than their personal need for significance. Keep in mind that there are other defining characters that are of huge importance in a hiring decision — core values, unique proven experience, capabilities, leadership gravitas, agility, biases and critical thinking. What makes a candidate uniquely qualified to achieve success and build enterprise value at your organization is a combination of core values and core competencies. Technical chops are undeniably important. We all want a Michael Jordan on our team. Jordan himself said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Players with extraordinary skills must be able to perform those skills within a team so that the organization — not just the individual — soars.

In the words of Jack Welch himself, “The day we screw up the people thing, this company is over.”



Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Samuel_Mann

About the author: Dave Carvajal

Dave Carvajal built HotJobs (650 employees, IPO & $1.2B market cap then sold to Yahoo!) as Co-founder & TheLadders (400 employees, $80M revs) where he focused on attracting, retaining and developing all employees. These days he’s asked by top VCs and CEOs of high-growth startups to build their Boards and leadership teams with the top 1% of A+ executive talent. He is an Ironman and lives in NJ with his wife where he is co-founder of twin boys and a pup named Clover.

You are seconds away from signing up for the hottest list in New York Tech!

Join the millions and keep up with the stories shaping entrepreneurship. Sign up today.