As a leader, nothing is more important than hiring great people. Great hires impact virtually every facet of your organization, from culture and values to the ability to innovate, adapt, and persevere over time. When we hire the right people they generate returns that significantly exceed the costs of their employment.

Conversely, poor hiring decisions cripple organizations. Bad hires require additional supervision, create conflict and make the leader's job harder. These distractions pull people away from the essential tasks of building products, delighting customers, and innovating ahead of the competition.

Leaders who have cracked the code adhere religiously to practices that dramatically increase the probability of hiring exceptional people.

Here's how to avoid the big mistake.

1. Stop Trying to Hire Yourself Over and Over.

Fight the urge to select only candidates who look and act like you. Studies consistently show that managers evaluate people more favorably when they share similarities in functional background, attitude, academic achievement, political views, and even physical appearance. However, besides being potentially discriminatory, this robs the organization of different perspectives and skills necessary to find new and innovative solutions to problems.

2. Don't Fall in Love Too Fast.

Resist the rush to grab the first candidate that meets your most basic criteria. You want to hire exceptional people. Build in time for a sufficient search. A bad hire is like a bad deal - it's easy to get into and very difficult to get out.

3. Pay More Attention to Character.

Managers caught up in the day-to-day pressures of running a business often overvalue a candidate's specific technical or functional skills. Character and other broad capabilities seem more like "nice to haves" rather than "necessary essentials." But a person's character and ability to meet unexpected challenges more typically determine their performance over the long run.

4. Get to the Heart of Whom You Are Hiring.

Gather the right information. It is time-consuming and difficult, but good in-depth interviews are critical to understanding an applicant's accomplishments, shortcomings, talents, values, motivation, and other job-relevant information. Unfortunately, many managers conduct interviews too quickly, with little preparation and not much structure.

5. Carefully Vet Your Finalist.

Managers who fail to check references typically make this mistake out of ignorance or out of a mistaken belief that reference checks don't yield useful information. However, smart managers do them -- and they don't rely solely on primary references (those provided directly by the candidate). Solicit secondary references from those initial calls and consult your own network (usually a candid resource). You want to explore an applicant's ability to work well with others, her leadership style, and how she works under pressure.

6. Make Sure to Utilize Your Team.

Involve multiple members of your team in the hiring process. It is the best way to assess a candidate's competency for all aspects of the job. The team may include those who will be working directly with the new hire or are familiar with the job requirements. In a well-organized interview, colleagues with different perspectives can triangulate their knowledge to reveal a fuller picture of a candidate. They will be grateful to participate and more invested in the new employee's success.

7. Look Everywhere for Talent.

Current employees need to know they are valued and have upward mobility, so give internal candidates fair consideration. These candidates often suffer because hiring managers tend to know a lot more about their strengths and weaknesses. Don't over-glorify the outsider, but keep in mind that it is often in your best interest to bring in new people who challenge the status quo.

8. A "Sink or Swim" Approach Often Leads to Drowning.

Socialize and integrate the new hire into the organization. Don't just throw them into the pool. Lunches and informal gatherings are essential. A good onboarding process is attentive and provides continuous feedback for improvement. This reinforces the message that the organization is trying to win as a team, helping all players perform to the best of their capabilities.