The new Chief Executive has been in post now for nearly one year. She has an excellent profile on all the competencies we set out in our job spec yet she seems to be having difficulty in navigating the corporate landscape. On the few occasions where she has tripped up she felt that she was not warned, no one said that they wanted a decision to be more widely discussed and subject to challenge by those not in her line. These incidents are becoming more frequent and the phrase “I’m not sure she quite gets it” is increasingly heard. Should we be worried? Should we have paid more attention to her character during the selection process?
Character strengths differ from the traditional definition of competencies in that they describe attributes, attitudes, aptitudes and personality variables. Whilst traditional methods are important in providing benchmark comparisons of capability, they are less likely to capture the complete essence of leadership “DNA”. Capability and competence are vital to leadership roles but so too is “fit”. Too often we hear that a new hire is respected for experience and capability,displaying the required behaviours (as specified in the profile) yet still does not quite fit. What we find is that “fit” is a statement about culture and style. Brilliance in one context may not perfectly transfer into another. As we explore this further we find that “cultural fit” tends to be judged (if at all) on the basis of the reactions of those that have interviewed the candidate. It is highly subjective and it often lacks any common view of what is meant by “fit” – the synthesis of the leadership character strengths that organisations need to thrive in our digitally connected age.
Historically, many businesses have utilised a variety of codified approaches to assessing leadership underpinned by competency frameworks and “observed” behaviour assessment. Whilst codified behavioural approaches have been helpful in identifying core strengths and development areas and enabled better recruitment decisions, we believe that they are too limited. What place have insight, bravery, humanity, positivity and other character strengths in leaders and how can these be identified in future leaders?
The enhanced assessment methodology
We have developed an enhanced individual profiling process that is thorough and incisive and we call it the ‘ERCONIC personal history semi structured interview’ which focuses on understanding and identifying individuals’ motives and drivers, evident over their past and present lives, combined with the use of psychometric tools to understand what underpins them. The se are then mapped onto and compared with the desired character strengths for the organisation. The combination forms the basis of a discussion with the individual in order to verify and help build as full a picture as possible of what makes them distinctive. We also make the assessment in the context of the numerous business leaders and potential leaders we have profiled both in the UK and internationally.
The result for the client is an individual report which describes the candidate’s characteristics, predicted on-the-job strengths and “watch outs”, with specific reference to the character strengths and their impact on the role, on the team and across the relevant organisational relationships the role requires to be maintained. The ERCONIC method can be used to make recruitment decisions, to fill a specific post and fit within an executive team, and to plan development.
Our methodology sits comfortably with additional elements in candidate assessment so that the client is confident the person is profiled from a number of perspectives.
Below is an assessment matrix with examples of leadership character strengths and comparing the veracity of different tools to assess them.
TABLE 1: Assessment Matrix to show Character Strengths
Strong leaders have distinctive characters. Leaders with particular character strengths will thrive in different situations depending on organisational culture, business context and current challenges. Therefore, the most effective leaders optimise their unique character strengths, which truly define them and the values and principles by which they lead, in line with the context and needs of the organisation.
Being able to identify character strengths in leaders and future leaders impacts on individual contributions, team effectiveness and the culture of organisations, better enabling them to adapt and thrive in our dynamic, highly connected digital age – and if we need to be different, then the courage to be so may start with our ERCONIC… approach to assessing character strengths of future leaders.
Take the CEO we mentioned at the start – knowing better how her character strengths would respond in this particular organisational environment may have resulted in a different appointment or at least made her and others aware of the “watch-out” in her character strengths and prompted appropriate steps to be taken to manage it explicitly and thus create an effective leadership outcome. Just the added benefit organisations need in these challenging times!