One of the greatest challenges for any leader or entrepreneur is building successful relationships. Success comes from nurturing a strong network, developing a great team, and creating trust with your customer base. Doing these things well means growing your people reading skills. In order to surround yourself with talented, trustworthy individuals, you must become an excellent judge of character.

Liz Pharo, Board Chair of Momentum Telecom, grew up working in her family's businesses, with parents who stressed the importance of building your own character with honesty and reliability.

In 2012, just as she was contemplating leaving the company for life as a stay-at-home mom, Pharo's father passed away. She suddenly found herself at the head of the board for two companies, swimming frantically in the deep end of the organizational pool, and wondering whom to trust. She quickly learned that leaders not only needed to show character but spot it on sight.

In the years since, Pharo, now a YPO member, has often found herself in a position where it's critical to evaluate character. She explains, "As the head of a technology company that is thriving after more than 15 years in business, my board and I have had countless opportunities to evaluate, cultivate and search out people to join our team and partner with us." Those experiences have shown Pharo that decisions made in a brief time frame can have long term consequences that reverberate throughout an organization. These are the principles she uses to guide the character assessments that are part of her daily responsibilities at Momentum and on several other corporate boards where she also serves.

  1. Look for Self-Confidence....

"There are no two ways about it, self-confidence is important in business," insists Pharo. "Who wants to buy into an idea if the seller seems sheepish or uncertain about it? Confidence is a valuable indicator of whether someone is prepared for success and the responsibilities that come with it." If someone does not seem to trust himself or his judgment, why should anyone else? Trust issues often arise when a partner does not show self-belief or confidence in the project.

  1. ... But Run Away from Ego

Pharo warns, "Confidence is a key quality, but few things are more toxic to an organization than ego. It's important to be able to distinguish between them. Learn to spot a big ego on sight, because it will most assuredly cause issues in the future." If an individual seems to think they were born with all the right answers, and shows a tendency to make decisions without taking advice or carefully looking at data, that's a sign of overconfidence. Ego often results in poor decision making and alienates the workforce. A smaller ego, on the other hands, "Makes room for more viewpoints to be shared and begins an open marketplace of ideas where the best idea can win. "

  1. Learn to Observe Others' Interactions

Watching how an individual treats others, especially those with little power or influence, is a powerful litmus test for character. Anyone can be polite to the CEO; few take time to be kind to the barista. Pharo describes a technique her company has used: "Whenever someone came in for an interview, we would have our receptionist spend some time asking that person questions before their "official" interview began. This gave us the chance to see how they would interact with someone that they thought would not be involved in the hiring process. The candidate never had any idea that the interview actually began the moment they met the receptionist. This often weeded out a few candidates." It costs nothing to treat people with dignity and respect, but it is surprising how many neglect these simple things. It is a trait every leader should want the members of a team to possess. Says Pharo, "This mentality helps us focus on doing the right thing, the right way and with the right attitude which has led the company to the industry's lowest churn rate and top customer experience."

  1. Listen to What Others Say...

You probably have a circle of trust in place. If the people in it are smart and observant, don't hesitate to leverage their observations. "These people's impressions are part of the resources you have at your disposal. Seek out their honest opinions about someone when you are in doubt or on the edge of a decision," Pharo encourages. There are two benefits to doing so: first, you may get insight or information you've overlooked. Second, it deepens the trust between you and the person whose advice you have sought.

  1. ...And Your Own Intuition

Pharo acknowledges, "There will always be people who look great on paper. They have the credentials and check all the boxes, but this is never the full story. So you should always allow your instincts to play a role in helping you evaluate people." Intangible qualities don't always leap off the page or the screen, but you can sense them when you come face-to-face with that person. If you have worked hard to cultivate your own character, you can trust yourself to bring some objectivity to the situation and consider the big picture. If your gut is telling you that there's something sort of off--or something very right--about a person, take that into consideration.

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.

Published on: Sep 1, 2017
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