Partner, Mistletoe USA
This question is riveting because it’s answer may provide one of the keys to success, even in life because it involves decision making at human scale where it matters.
A very good friend of mine is a retired CEO of a huge company. Real huge. This guy worked his way up from an engineer to Chairman & CEO over a 40 year career.
Once I asked him to meet with me and a candidate I really wanted to hire. All three of us met and I thought the meeting was great. Surely, my wise mentor would congratulate me at our next appointment.
Boy was I wrong. A few days later we met again and almost immediately he expressed, in no uncertain terms, that I should stay away from this candidate. It is hard to understate my shock because I was literally stunned. Wasn’t this the perfect team member?
Through a series of questions I could not get a fully articulated explanation and frankly I was not going to press to the point of showing my incredulity. He simply said that he had seen “that type of guy” and it never ended well. It felt a little like the scene from City Slickers where Billy Crystal’s character Mitch is talking to Curly…
Curly: You know what the secret of life is?
Mitch: No, what?
Curly: This. [Holds up one finger.]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.
Mitch: That’s great, but what’s the one thing?
Curly: That’s what you’ve got to figure out.
I took my mentor’s advice without totally understanding and reluctantly began to back away from the candidate.
Nearly two years later I saw the candidate melt down in another deal, somewhat publicly. All I could think about was my mentor’s advice.
He had a compass, a guide. He had real world experience earned in the process of living life, which included, hiring and firing lots of people.
If we were talking basketball, and I said “how do I get better at shooting?”, you would say, “Go play basketball and shoot the ball.”
In business, you have to be willing to hire and fire. It is part of your required skill set. It is part of the game. As you see the impact of your decision you must revisit your choices and understand what works and what doesn’t. Obviously you don’t simply go out and start firing people and say, “now I have experience”. Nor would you go and hire a bunch of people in the same way. But, the key is that you should always be attuned to the need.
It is very interesting that my CEO friend grew up in a very small town, went to a small school and then went on to run one of the largest companies in the world.
Was it his small town insight? Hard to say for certain. Personally, I think his strength is that he knew himself. He trusted himself and he was honest with himself. He lived a solid life and built up the right amount of confidence and self assurance. This allowed him to be unemotional and free to make clear and wise choices.
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