Why Do "Great Hires" Sometimes End in "Great Mistakes"?

Sometimes when an executive is selected for a critical leadership position, the “great fit” hire doesn’t last. Despite conducting considerable due diligence,this disappointing outcome can often be traced back to mismatched career trajectories--both organizational and individual.

Most organizations have intentional career paths. Unfortunately, most also have a checkered history of off-target predictions, limited information about their environments, and zero certainty about their ability to predict the future. Nonetheless, executive hiring criteria are often crystallized based upon these shaky assumptions--typically with enthusiastic confidence.

Executive candidates often bringing a history of accidental career paths and typically suffer from the same miscalculations about the past, present, and future. 

When you mix these inaccurate assumptions together, it's no surprise that the two parties lack sufficient parallelism and/or a solid connection for sustaining long term mutual success.

So what can be done to moderate the risks of a mismatch of career paths when selecting an executive leader? 

The trick to choosing leaders successfully lies in both proactive self-knowledge and proper assessment of the organization’s path. A few examples may help here:
  • Why hire executives who seek long term bonds among the people they work with, only to assign them to lead private equity capital funded organizations that are intended to be sold in a very few years?
  • Why hire a successful, quick acting turnaround executive for an organization where expected growth is low slope, steady and where change is incremental evolution.
  •  Why hire executives looking for highly leveraged equity rewards for a family-controlled business with no intention of extending equity beyond the family?

Too often, smart people make the hiring decisions described above based on a preference emphasizing credentials and experience in hiring criteria. They may tend to ignore mismatched career paths, may respond to a compatible interpersonal style, or favor past background more than  considering a future candidate’s career intentions.

"Serial executive" candidates who view their careers as a series of deals need to be matched with organizations with short term, often urgent objectives.

“Committed executive” candidates who seek significant meaning from their work need to seek out organizations who have a purposeful long-term future in mind.

Whether the executive is a committed or a serial relater, the concept shared by Andre Delbecq that “leaders should pitch a tent and not build a castle” applies here.The most significant difference may be that serial leaders strike their tents and move on, and the committed leaders strike their tents too, yet sometimes they bring the organization along with them to a new  place.

All of this is based on two basic understandings. First, the responsibility for the career experience of a leader always rests in the head and heart of that individual. This recognition acknowledges and admires the power we are each gifted with to choose wisely. Second, sometimes the greatest mistakes lead to the greatest lessons learned.

*Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by Manostphoto