By Geoff Smart and Carter Cast
Geoff: Congrats on the success of your new book! It’s the best career success book I’ve read in recent memory. (Carter just published The Right–and Wrong–Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made. And Business Insider named it a top 17 business book for 2018).
Carter: Thanks! You know, I was thinking that some of the core messages of the book are relevant not only to career success, but to hiring success.
G: And hiring success is a big driver of career success, right?
C: Yes. Especially at senior leadership levels. So what advice would you have for our readers to be able to spot candidates during interviews who have the right stuff and avoid the ones with the wrong stuff?
G: Please tell us about each of your 5 negative archetypes, and I’ll offer advice how to spot them.
C: #1: Captain Fantastic. He or she is a human wrecking ball who is ambitious to a fault, and who steps on people to get ahead.
G: To spot that one, watch for the following signs in interviews. Candidates will talk about their greatest accomplishments not being delivering value to customers or developing their teams (which are noble accomplishments), but they will brag about beating others! I interviewed a CFO candidate once who talked mostly about politically out-maneuvering his peers, the failure of his peers, and ‘triumphing over others.’ You want to hire people who build people up, not tear them down.
C: Right, nobody likes a self-important show-off.
G: Gosh, you remind me of a failure I had. I was in Captain Fantastic mode when I worked as an intern at a large consulting firm. I tried to out-shine the other interns vs. helping them be successful. To one meeting, I brought a block of wood and a hammer with nails, and I declared that every time the partners in the room agreed on a decision about the new consulting service we were designing, I would ceremoniously hammer a nail into this “success board.” It was obnoxious. And I received useful feedback after that meeting to knock it off.
C: That’s pretty cheesy – were you influenced by that Peter, Paul and Mary song? Good thing you received the gift of feedback at an early age.
G: Easy there, glass houses — I recall you shared some of your own embarrassing stories in your book! I’m just following your lead, so our readers can learn from our mistakes.
C: Next archetype. #2: The Solo Flier. He or she thinks that if you want something done right, you must do it yourself. They don’t teach their team to fish – they try to fish for them. The team becomes demotivated.
G: To spot that type of candidate, you will notice that in positions of senior management, these candidates fail to achieve results because they have “no time'” and they were “too busy.” These folks fail to hire and delegate. They just take on the work of their team, and their talented subordinates quit in protest. There is an entrepreneur we saw up close once—in the tech industry—who burned out because she flied solo and never got the hang of hiring and leading through others. She used to yell at people for making even the smallest decisions without her approval. Solo flying is fine in individual contributor roles. But you want to hire people for leadership roles who show the ability to hire, delegate, and achieve results through others.
C: #3: It’s an archetype we call Version 1.0. These folks become highly comfortable with their routines, and are skeptical of change. When asked to consider taking a different approach, they often lead with a “Yeah but…”
G: To spot people who are skeptical of change, listen for stories where the situation changed, and yet the candidate kept on the same path, and went off a cliff. I’m aware of a manufacturing executive who resisted new technologies in his industry like predictive analytics and automation, and tried to survive the old-fashioned way—with lots of manual inputs and not equipping his people with the latest tools. His factory’s efficiency and productivity suffered relative to competitors. He started losing big customers and his business went into a tailspin.
C: #4: The One-Trick Pony. These people get stuck in a career rut because they over-rely on their one strength they built and don’t look for opportunities to broaden their perspective by taking lateral moves, etc.
G: So, do you have to be an award-winning professor, venture capitalist, CEO, and author like you, Carter, to avoid being stigmatized a One Trick Pony?
C: Ha. No, funny guy. I was called a One-Trick Pony in a review when I was in my early thirties and had to shed the moniker by looking for opportunities to broaden my perspective and see how all the pieces of the business fit together. Now get on with your advice please.
G: I interviewed a One Trick Pony a few weeks ago—he had a fantastic ability to write compelling copy. But when he started getting promoted in marketing communications jobs, his instinct when faced with a client or internal problem was to sit down and write rather than stand up and lead! But memos and PowerPoint decks are not sufficient tools of communication to lead larger teams. You need to be able to lead discussions—in person–in which you and your team prioritize, figure out to whom to assign to what tasks, work through conflicts, develop people, and follow up and get results. So, despite wanting to move up and make an even bigger impact, his career stagnated.
C: #5: The Whirling Dervish. These high-energy people offer a flood of ideas. But they often struggle with having the discipline to plan and execute reliably.
G: This one is easy to spot in interviews. They don’t answer your questions. They ramble. They literally bounce around in their chairs. You get the sense that they confuse “activity” with “achieving valuable results.” When you try to pin them down on what the results of their efforts were, they have excuses—my boss was not on board, Finance vetoed my idea, the organization was not innovative enough, etc.
C: Here’s to avoiding being, or hiring, the archetypes that lead to career stagnation: Captain Fantastic, The Solo Flier, Version 1.0, The One-Trick Pony, and The Whirling Dervish. And may our readers achieve career success by being self-reflective, building their emotional intelligence, and hiring and leading people to achieve results.
Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world. Click for the firm’s bestselling books Who, Power Score, and The CEO Next Door, and click here for downloadable tools.
Carter Cast is author of The Right–and Wrong–Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made. He is an award-winning clinical professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Kellogg and a venture partner at Pritzker Group. Carter was formerly CEO of Walmart.com and started his career in brand management at PepsiCo.