What Do We Really Want From CEOs?

There is a parlor game in some circles which asks whether any organization would hire Steve Jobs using “traditional” selection tools to run a company. The conversation can be held for any person who is seen as an outsider who succeeds. Part of this discussion is moot as founders of companies don’t get “selected” and the skill sets required for a founder and a CEO of an established company are totally different.

For me, it begs the question of what do we really want from our CEOs? After all, we can’t really discuss what we would measure in a candidate until we know what the job entails. This came to mind while I was reading a story about Larry Page this weekend and how he fulfills his role at Alphabet, Inc. (holding company of Google). This is not to say that his role as CEO is typical, but it is instructive.

According the article, Page sees his role as the innovator-in-chief who looks for new opportunities for his company, or existing ones that can be purchased. Just as importantly, he is charged with finding the people to run Alphabet’s innovative businesses. Note that none of this relates to his ability budget, lead and motivate others, manager capital, etc. Of course, the article simplifies what Page does and this blog entry simplifies it even more. However, if Alphabet were to replace him, at least this provides a road map of what they would look for:

  • Openness to New Experiences
  • Curiosity
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Persuasiveness
  • Evaluation of Talent

And it would be very different for hiring a CEO of a financial services company, or a hospital, or a non-profit, etc.

So, the question in the title isn’t meant to be a broad generalization. Rather, for your organization, it should read, “What Do We Want from Our CEO?” Using that thinking, perhaps you would hire Steve Jobs. Or, someone better for your business.

For a deeper conversation about selecting executives, contact Warren Bobrow.

Should HR Use Social Media Blinders?

Every couple of weeks I come across some sort of article or opinion piece about whether or not HR departments should use social media sites when recruiting or selecting candidates. The articles usually fall into one of two categories:

  • Of course you should, dummy! Any data is good data. How can you pass this up?
  • Using social media data is a one-way ticket to court and is immoral! Every bias companies have is out there and you’ll be discriminating against people, whether you want to or not.

The latest one that caught my eye was definitely in the second category. Not surprisingly, the author uncovered research data that showed that certain information found on social media would bias employers. Sort of like everything we know about how information about race, age, gender, religion, etc in resumes and interviews leads to bias. No surprises here.

People who think all social media information should be ignored seem to have this idea that HR departments spend a lot of time snooping candidates’ social media. Maybe some do, even if to check work history on LinkedIn, but that attitude strikes me as paranoid.

We do know that social media activity does correlate with personality traits which are predictive of job performance, so there is likely some valid data out there. My biggest issue with using social media to recruit or make selections is the self-selection bias. Not everyone uses social media or uses it in the same way. So, while there might be predictive information within a sample of candidates (those active on social media), it is less reliable for the population of candidates (everyone you may be interested in, whether or not they are active on social media).

As with any selection tool, you’ll want to make the playing field level. If you want to read about candidates’ business history, let them know that you’ll be taking a look at their profiles, connections, etc on LinkedIn (where they’ll have their “professional” face on). If I’m hiring for a programmer, you can bet that I would be interested in the open source code contributions they have made.

We’re at the tip of the iceberg as to what valid information can be gleaned from social media. By the time we find out, the platforms we use now are likely to be obsolete (what, we can soon use more than 140 characters on Twitter?). But, the “rules” for using social media information should be the same as any other selection tool:

  • Is what you are looking for job related?
  • Is the information gathered reliable, or just one person’s opinion about what it means?
  • Would the information potentially have adverse impact against protected groups?
  • Is this really the best way to learn whether the person possesses that knowledge, skill, ability, or personal characteristic?

What, if anything are you doing to evaluate candidates online?

For more information about valid selection methods, contact Warren Bobrow.

Is It Better to Lead Apart or Within?

Happy New Year!

Today I came across a specialized leadership development program for LGBT executives. It’s offered at Stanford, and it ain’t cheap, so I’m thinking it’s not a fly-by-night kind of thing. But, it did get me thinking about the wisdom of leading by identity.

If nothing else, leaders need to be authentic. I never bought into the idea that women needed to be more like men (whatever that means) in order to be effective executives. Rather, leadership effectiveness is a combination of desire and developed talent, regardless of (fill in the demographic variable).

White men have had their own networking group since the beginning of the industrial age, so I don’t see specific groups for LGBT, women, Asian, etc executives as any sort of reverse discrimination. There’s great comfort and learning to be had from sharing with those who have had similar experiences to you. And just because Tim Cook of Apple came out doesn’t mean that challenges facing LGBT executives have disappeared any more than President Obama’s election eliminated racism in the U.S.

But, I would caution against leaders overly “branding” themselves in a category other than that of their organization. It is almost like when you hear someone in your organization refer to “you” rather than “us” when describing an issue. Aren’t we all in this together?

I support leaders developing their skills where they can and universities making extra money. But, consider this: Wouldn’t there be more benefit of these programs if the attendees were 50% LGBT and 50% straight? I’d like to hear your thoughts about this, or similar programs.

For more information on leadership development, please contact Warren Bobrow.


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