John Mackey of Whole Foods on Hiring Leaders
John Mackey of Whole Foods describes his process for identifying key hires.
Q: What traits should I look for when hiring for a leadership position?
Adam P. McCampbell
A: My philosophy about this has definitely evolved over the years. I understand people a lot better today than I did 30 years ago. Back then, I was more impressed with people who were very articulate. In many companies, the person who talks the best usually gets the job. I got snowed by a few of those people over the years. I still think communication is important, but I don't think there's always a correlation between being a great communicator and other virtues that make for a great leader.
That's why the first thing you should look at is character. I look for somebody who has classic virtues such as integrity, honesty, courage, love, and wisdom. Someone who is hard-working, candid, and ambitious, while still showing humility. I also look for people who have a high degree of emotional intelligence -- a high capacity for caring. I think for leadership positions, emotional intelligence is more important than cognitive intelligence. People with emotional intelligence usually have a lot of cognitive intelligence, but that's not always true the other way around.
These characteristics are obviously much easier to identify when you are promoting from within, which is what we do most of the time. You get to know the person. If candidates are coming from outside the company, it's more difficult. In that case, you want to see a track record of leadership. Talk to people who have worked with the candidates, including bosses, peers, and people they have managed.
Good leaders need to be able to connect to all of those around them. This is especially true at Whole Foods, where we have a very team-oriented culture. When I'm hiring leaders, I pay a lot of attention to what their peers and what people who report to them say about them. We want people who relate well with their peers and cooperate in an exchange of information rather than being overly competitive.
A leader also needs to be someone with whom you can relate. I've sometimes passed over a good person because I knew I wouldn't be able to manage that person well. I'm very candid, so I can't have someone who's hypersensitive, for example. Above all, we want leaders who work hard and care deeply about what they do and the people around them.