Lately I have been up to my eyeballs in truly epic searches....

Lots of hiring activity going on out there at the VP level.
One VP of Marketing search in particular has me feeling like the ball boy at Wimbledon, with a worldclass Fortune 500 company on the client side of the net, and several massively talented candidates on the other. One of the most humbling things about the search is that the client has solicited my input on which candidates have the greatest leadership potential. Tough question, especially in light of the marquee-level talent pool. From an experience standpoint, all of them are highly qualified to do the job.
But which one has the X-factor?
To tease out this issue, I advised the client to consult the Catechism of management thought: The Daily Drucker, wherein Peter Drucker first defines the term ...
"Leadership is not rank, it is responsibility. It is the lifting of a subordinate's vision to higher sights .... the raising of a subordinate's performance to a higher standard. It is the building of a subordinate's personality beyond its normal limitations. A leader must set strict principles of conduct and responsibility, high standards of performance, and respect for the individual and his work."
Okay. Now that we know what we're looking for, exactly how would Mr. Drucker go about identifying a new leader of an institution? As is typical, his answer's awesome:

  • First: I would look at what the candidates have done .... and what their strengths are. You can only perform with strength. What has each candidate done with his strengths?
  • Second: I would look at the institution and ask: "What is the key challenge?" I would try to match the candidate's strengths with the needs.
  • Third: I would look for integrity. A leader sets an example, especially a strong leader. He or she is someone on whom people .... especially younger people .... in the organization model themselves.

When selecting a leader, I always ask myself: "Would I want one of my children to work under this person?" If the leader is successful, then the young people will imitate him. I ask myself: "Would I want my child to look like this?" [Man, is that powerful or what?]
The Warren Buffett Acid Test
But what should a hiring committee do if all of the candidates in the pool fit Mr. Drucker's profile? I advised the client to do precisely what Warren Buffett did when he chose Deryck Maughan as the CEO of Solomon Brothers in the wake of Solomon Treasury Bond scandal of 1991. In picking Mr. Maughan in a time of crisis from a similarly crowded field of superstar candidates, Mr. Buffett distilled his entire hiring process down to two simple questions:
"If this were an investment decision, ...

  • FROM which candidate would I want to COLLECT 10% of his earnings in perpetuity?
  • TO which candidate would I want to PAY 10% of his earnings in perpetuity?

– assuming I got to pocket the difference."[Don't you wish you had that kind of mental clarity? Me too!]
Naturally, if there are six candidates under consideration, Mr. Buffett's method would separate the first and last, then the second and the fifth, and finally the third and fourth. Voila: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 ranked as if you were going to be plunking down your very own cash for them.
Try it right now: Write down the names of any six of your college buddies. Now notice as your mind automatically begins to stack rate "intangibles" like energy, drive, focus, resourcefulness, decision quality, maturity, command presence, IQ, EQ, and so on. Like magic, the wheat segregates to one side of the ledger, the chaff to the other. If you are following the Good to Great "First Who, Then What" rule, then this is a great way to get the right people on the bus.
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Warren Buffett on "Which Candidate Has the Most Potential?"

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Harry Joiner is an executive recruiter specializing in integrated marketing and "new media." He has been featured in MarketingSherpa's Great Minds in Marketing series and received coverage in the Wall Street Journal's Career Journal Online. According to Viral Garden's weekly rankings, Harry's weblog is one of the top 25 marketing weblogs in the world.