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HIRING

Hiring a Leader? Vet How She Treats Subordinates

We all know senior-level employees who talk up to the boss, but down to staffers. Don't hire them.
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Sometimes you know in an instant that you are definitely not welcome. It happened to me not too long ago.

Two employees to whom I was speaking stopped talking as soon as their boss entered the room. Judging by the looks on their faces they seemed like school kids caught playing hooky. The boss slipped into his chair at the head of the table and, aside from a weak perfunctory handshake with me, said little. It was clear he had other priorities and made no attempt to connect with me.

Needless to say our meeting was inconclusive, so I wondered: how did this guy ever get to be a senior executive? From my limited perspective I sensed that he perceived himself superior to me and even more superior to his direct reports. I can only surmise is that he presents well to superiors but when it comes to colleagues and subordinates he plays the heavy. He is, as they say in the military, the embodiment of the, "kiss up, kick down" boss.

The next day I had a phone conversation with a senior executive whom I had never met. Even though I could not see him I could sense his presence. His tone was warm and welcoming, and despite the fact that he likely had a stack of to-do's awaiting him he made me feel that what I was doing for his organization was important. 

So the question is: whom would you rather work for?

That's a logical question I pose to people who are in hiring positions because I want to encourage them to find out what candidates are like from the perspective of superiors—as well as peers, and subordinates.

Don't underestimate the impact that a candidate will have on your organization. Certainly those in line for senior-level positions have demonstrated competence; they have a track record. You know what they are capable of doing because they have done it. But it's simply not enough to look at a resume, of course. You need to interview the individuals, not only one-on-one but also in group situations. Moreover, you need to do some due diligence to find out what previous employers thought of the candidate.

You may need to filter out disgruntlement from former colleagues. But remember you are not hiring a saint, or a best pal. You are seeking to hire someone who can do the job but do it with style and in ways that foster teamwork and collaboration.

Senior executives are the face of the organization. When selecting them you need to be careful that they radiate the values of your organization. Your brand image is at stake. One bad hire in a senior position can be harmful to a corporate reputation.

Maybe Benjamin Franklin put it best when he wrote: "To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness." Likewise, subordinates return the favor by doing their best.

Last updated: Feb 22, 2012

JOHN BALDONI | Columnist | President, Baldoni Consulting

John Baldoni is the president of Baldoni Consulting, an executive coaching firm. John speaks widely on leadership and has written 10 leadership books; his newest is Lead With Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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