21.1 Identifying Who Has What It Takes. Hiring
new recruits, promoting Subordinates, or choosing a successor presents Leaders with their most auspicious opportunities to
impact organizational results. Not surprisingly, a Leader's depth of character and leadership talent will ultimately
determine the quality of the Subordinates he or she selects. As Leaders habitually choose individuals who reflect their
own image because they feel comfortable with this personality profile and usually believe that they themselves are a sterling
role model. Thus this nearly inescapable bias causes Leaders to hire and promote individuals who are in essence clones
of themselves, or who at least outwardly profess to have the same general values and attitude. In short, rolled-shirt-sleeve
types usually favor other rolled-shirt-sleeve types, while desk jockeys usually prefer and promote other desk jockeys.
And this natural predisposition or prejudice—favorable or unfavorable depending upon one's point of view or leadership
talents—often proves difficult if not impossible for the greater majority of Leaders to overcome. Some Leaders
also have a strong need to select Subordinates who are willing to implement their directives without debating or challenging
them outright due to their own inability to resolve conflict or to think outside the box. However, such candidates typically
possess less distinguished leadership traits than those who think for themselves, seek greater latitude to implement their
own ideas, or who persistently search for ways to make a meaningful contribution to the big picture. Additionally, individuals
who function well or are satisfied with doing their Leader's bidding may ultimately prove unsuitable for exercising independent
command no matter how long they have been a strong right arm or successfully played second fiddle. But when things are
rolling along in a relatively satisfactory manner, the average senior Leader is usually content with maintaining the status
quo; for there is no immediate imperative necessitating that changes be made. And though impending calamities normally
first appear as only tiny indistinguishable signs or flickering cautionary lights on some distant horizon (e.g., a small tropical
depression off the West coast of Africa)—requiring someone of acute vision or exceptional mental capacity to distinguish
them—most Leaders typically have difficulty selecting or promoting individuals of equal or greater leadership or intellectual
depth than themselves. As such individuals often cause their immediate supervisor to feel inadequate or envious, or
otherwise undermine his or her own self-confidence. Conversely, aggressive futuristic Leaders fully recognize that while
"talent is that which is in a man's [woman's] power; genius is that in whose power a man [woman] is" (James Russell Lowell,
American Author, 1819-1891), and assiduously seek such Subordinate gemstones whether ideally cut or in their rough natural
state. For "effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes"
(Drucker); and superior results are rarely achieved by an amalgamation of average minds, no matter how congenial they might
(A) Consequently, superior Leaders select individuals
who have the strongest leadership traits and administrative skill set; considering such factors to be significantly more important
than their genteel interactive traits or the ability to reconfigure themselves into the protracted, B-school leadership image
that he or she might have unwittingly formulated. For stacking the junior supervisory ranks with smiling, numb-brain
sycophants is the equivalent of a Leader placing a magnet near the organization's compass so that the arrow will point in
the direction that he or she wants to go; as opposed to selecting Subordinates whose counsel or productive output would be
of substantially greater merit.
(B) However, Subordinates who regularly prove to be the
best Leaders may not necessarily win many popularity contests among their peers or superiors or be particularly easy to get
along with. For example, General MacArthur illustrated this concept well when explaining his choice of General George
C. Kenny (who had been a frequent irritation when MacArthur served as Chief-of-Staff) as his air commander in the South Pacific
during WWII: "in peace time [when things are going well] you want an officer [a steady professional] and a gentleman [someone
who is congenial], at war [during a crisis] you want a rebel [someone who can think for him or herself and exercise independent
judgment] and a son-of-a-bitch [a tough decision maker who is willing to call the shots]." General Kenny allegedly made
no objection to the inference that he was a rebel. (Perret, SND).
(C) Commonly, the most difficult problem for middle or
senior Leaders to overcome when promoting Subordinates or choosing a successor in larger organizations is identifying those
individuals who demonstrate noticeably greater leadership ability than their peers at the earlier stages of their development.
For though there are normally a large number of bright and energetic individuals to select from initially, only a relatively
small percentage of these will have the depth of character, technical ability, creativity, and fortitude to develop the leadership
skills ultimately needed to succeed at progressively higher levels of responsibility. And given the fact that within
any organization there are usually only a mere handful of individuals who provide the creative input, determine the strategic
outcome, or otherwise impel it to move forward; it is absolutely imperative that those who are groomed to perpetuate this
elite nuclear core have enough fissionable mental material to make it all happen (Jay). As most importantly, upper-echelon
Leaders who would attempt to scale the highest or even more modest peaks all need their Tenzing Norgays (Nepalese Sherpa who
assisted Sir Edmund Percival Hillary in conquering Mt. Everest on May 29, 1953, 1914-1986); regardless of the scope of their
personal knowledge, special talents, or motivational ability.
(D) Senior leadership aspirees must be able to outperform
their peers at each successive level of responsibility to at least position themselves to be eligible for further advancement.
However, beyond the second or third supervisory levels, the overall importance of superior technical skills begins to diminish
with an increasingly greater proportion of a rising Leader's success being dependent upon his or her ability to motivate his
or her Subordinates to achieve superior performance levels. Additionally, the skill set required to ascend to the uppermost
echelons can be heavily tilted toward favorably impressing one's superiors on a social or superficial basis rather than being
dependent upon the technical competence or leadership skills required of a future president. Thus in highly politicized
organizations it may be literally impossible for individuals with the strongest leadership traits to advance beyond the second
or third supervisory echelons, simply because those who possess the motivational skills and drive to get things done at the
early stages of their career development commonly lack comparably strong political or superficial interaction skills, and
often develop a reputation for stepping on too many toes. For resolute leadership demands that individuals have a desire
to determine what is to be done and to do it; whereas being politically astute requires that they more readily accept the
will of their superiors and do as they are told with a minimum of controversy. And rare indeed is an individual who
due to his or her intensity level will have the opportunity to achieve significant notoriety for his or her proficiency, competence,
or operational achievements; while at the same time remaining politically popular with the greater majority of his or her
peers or superiors. But more astutely, senior Leaders should select promotable candidates based upon their willingness
to exercise their own prerogative combined with the necessary discipline to get things done within the system—though
possibly bursting a rivet or two—rather than selecting those who have successfully avoided controversy or who are more
likely to be convivial dinner companions.
(E) As maximizing the bottom line requires that only
individuals with the strongest leadership attributes, mental wherewithal, and achievement records be promoted; without regard
to where they went to college, who their father was, who they know, where they come from, how good a round of golf they play,
how adroit their political skills, how many sports trivia questions they can answer, or some similarly nebulous pedigree.
And axiomatically, the most qualified individual should be promoted even if the subsequent vacancy created by his or her promotion
will prove difficult to fill (though often only an excuse to kill a highly qualified but controversial individual's candidacy).
For if the most operationally qualified candidate is passed over, the Leader will predictably have to fill that vacancy relatively
soon anyway without the continued services of the Subordinate who was deemed "too valuable" in his or her present position
to be promoted.
(F) In addition, Subordinates with diverse backgrounds
add greater strength to the decision making matrix and accelerate the development of their peers; consequently, Leaders should
endeavor to create a heterogeneous, not homogeneous, group of Subordinates. For work groups consisting of individuals
with highly similar backgrounds, beliefs, or experiences tend to be more narrow in both their general outlook and approach
to problems than those who have collectively faced a wider range of challenges. Thus a Leader is grievously injudicious
to insist that his or her Subordinate conform their thoughts or behavior to his or her expectations beyond that reasonably
required to maintain operational discipline or to achieve the organization's objectives.
(G) When faced with a downsizing challenge, Leaders must
be especially careful choosing which Subordinates to retain so as to prevent cutting lean as well as fat. For if those
who remain are selected based primarily upon their personality or subservience to the Leader's will, the new "lean, mean,
fighting machine" will prove to have even less operational firepower than its more corpulent predecessor. Turnaround
Leaders can also expect the ingratiatory "smoke blowing" to be especially thick and heavy as everyone begins falling over
backwards trying to curry his or her favor. However, during a turnaround situation—as well as in all other supervisory
circumstances—a strict cash-and-carry, “money [ability] talks, BS [politics] walks" selection policy repeatedly
produces the most proficient results. But in any event, Leaders "should never shortsightedly sacrifice people to save
a few short-run dollars" (Axelrod, POL p148) and wind up with such an emaciated organization structure once the downsizing
debris cloud has cleared that it cannot effectively handle additional "sales weight" after it moves beyond the red-ink crisis.
(H) Significantly more aggressive or imaginative individuals
can be expected to experience mounting frustration over any ineptness or sluggishness demonstrated by either their peers or
superiors. As a result, it is not unusual for Leaders of considerable merit to have been fired from one or more positions
simply because they worked for supervisors who proved incapable of maximizing their talents or who failed to build a sound
working relationship. Consequently, Leaders whose résumés are brimming with accomplishments, and who appear to have
what it takes, and yet have not apparently reached their full hierarchical potential are more often unemployed because of
an incompetent or envious supervisor than because of their own interactive deficiencies or lack of ability. And while
the selection of such candidates may seem somewhat iffy on the surface, the benefit to aggravation ratio can often be so stupendous
as to make the potential increase in supervisory effort or gastrointestinal distress well worthwhile. Alternatively,
the fantasy of hiring or promoting individuals who have the ability to solve all the Leader's problems without creating some
additional controversy is about as far-fetched as imagining a teenager who will not at some point test the crush depth of
his or her parents' patience.
(I) Ultimately, the final selection or promotion decision
should not be the product of a committee or a popularity contest of the candidate's peers, as such results will invariably
be corrupted by the self-interests of those involved. It is the Leader who must make the final decision based upon his
or her own analysis, judgment and experience after considering the attributes of each candidate, the advice of those participating
in the selection process, and the perceived needs of the organization. As "there are no [personality or character] traits
that guarantee successful leadership in all situations….What produces good results…is the combination of a particular
context and an individual with the appropriate qualities to lead in that context" (Gardner, OL p38); and successfully making
such matches is a major reason why senior Leaders get paid the big bucks.