How Great Leaders Recruit People with Heart Great Leaders Recruit People with Heart
Penguins lining up for interviews
“Acquiring and keeping good people is a leader’s most important task.”
John Maxwell, leadership author

How much scrutiny do you use in assessing people for your team? What do you look for? And how?

Triple crown leaders—ones who build organizations that are excellent, ethical, and enduring—systematically recruit people with specific characteristics. They invest their precious time and energy to get it right. They are always on the lookout for good people and staying in touch with candidates.

The worst time to start the hiring process is when someone has left a position vacant. Smart leaders are always searching for talent, even when there’s no current opening. You can recruit promising talent into a position with the understanding that a move to a great new assignment will come as soon as possible. Guard that position in budget proposals to ensure a steady flow of new talent.

As we noted in our article, “The Importance of Heart in Leadership,” it’s essential to screen people not just for “head” characteristics (like education, knowledge, skills, experience, intelligence, and technical competence) but also for “heart” (integrity, emotional intelligence, courage, passion, authenticity, and resilience).


Screening for Heart

Some people wonder, “Can you really screen for heart?”

Yes. Triple crown leaders screen for heart because it’s essential and has tangible benefits. They are very selective about whom they hire. For them, leadership is a group performance. There’s no higher priority than getting top people with head and heart.

We recommend panels of interviewers to get different perspectives. Many organizations, including Google, Zappos, and others, use such panels very effectively.

Over the years, we’ve learned the value of deep reference checks. First you ask a candidate for references (all glowing, undoubtedly). Then you call those references personally, listen closely for signs of character (and other key points), and finally ask, “Who else might be able to tell me about this person?” Then you call those new sources and do it again.

By the time you get to the third ring of references, patterns emerge. What was a whisper in the first round (“Bill is a great visionary”) becomes a shout (“Bill is poor on details and follow-up; his head is always in the clouds”).

Ben Heineman, former senior vice president for law and public affairs at GE and author of High Performance with High Integrity, told us during our interview, “Every major hire should be accompanied by serious due diligence including reference checks on their character.”

Patience is essential when interviewing. Pressure always exists to find someone quickly to fill a vacancy, but rushing to hire someone who lacks heart becomes a painful and costly mistake.

Leadership Derailers Assessment

Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.


The Cost of a Bad Hire

According to a CareerBuilder survey, 41% of companies surveyed reported that a bad hire has cost them at least $25,000, and 25% say it cost them at least $50,000. Top costs incurred due to bad hires included lost worker productivity, lost time to recruiting and training a new worker, negative impact on worker morale, and negative impact on client solutions. Top reasons cited for hiring the wrong people included the perceived need to fill a position quickly, lack of adequate testing of worker skills, and lack of adequate reference checking.

Take the time to get it right when it comes to hiring people. A job offer entails an ethical commitment to a person, just as accepting an offer entails committing to the organization. Honor those commitments by doing your homework carefully.


Reflection Questions

  1. What do you do to assess a job candidate’s heart qualities?
  2. Do your job descriptions include heart qualities?
  3. Do your screening and interview techniques include heart qualities?
  4. Do your job postings include heart qualities?
  5. Do you describe the heart qualities you seek for your culture to candidates and ask them to describe how they embody those qualities?
  6. What else could you and your colleagues do to hire for heart?


Tools for You

Leadership Derailers Assessment

Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.


More Articles from Our Series on “Head and Heart” in Leadership—And Recruiting, Developing, and Rewarding People


Postscript: Inspirations on Recruiting People

  • “If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could [because] the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.” -Jim Collins, author
  • “Hiring isn’t just your most important job—it’s also your hardest…. If I had to distill hundreds of best practices to a single piece of advice, it would be this: build the best team you possibly can as early as you possibly can.” -Matt Blumberg, founder and CEO, Return Path
  • “If you can get only one thing right, it’s recruiting. You need to find excellent people who are a good fit and outstanding in their fields. Everything else is secondary.” -Andreas Ehn, partner, Approach (and formerly with Spotify)
  • “I want to know who they are…. I want them to fit with our values and culture. I look for flexibility… fearlessness… Quick learners. Fast failers.… empathy.… character…. Strong moral compass, humility, self-awareness, authenticity. You are who you are. You’ve got that clear.… emotional intelligence. That… tells us how much of a leadership position you can take.” -Ursula Burns, former Chair & CEO, Xerox

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Gregg Vanourek and Bob Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, and award-winning authors (and son and father). They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards. Check out their Leadership Derailers Assessment or get their monthly newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps! Great Leaders Recruit People with Heart