Successful CEO's frequently pivot from tactical tasks to strategic planning, but sometimes events happen that requires hands on attention to keep operations humming. My most recent CEO coaching session was conducted over the phone while the CEO drove to fill in for a manager out with a broken leg. And that was just one of the unexpected events that resulted in serious staff shortages.
He immediately recognized that he was working tactically rather than strategically, but he was up to his a** in alligators, his sleeves were rolled up and he was getting things done. At the top of his long to do list was looking for a new a General Manager (GM). After catching up, I ask him "What did you really want in a GM?"
"Well, someone to lead the staff. Someone who I can bounce ideas off."
"What else?" I asked.
"Well, I'm talking to a couple of guys and one of them might work out."
"Before you tell me about these candidates, I'll ask again, what would make a perfect candidate?" I actually had to pose this question a few times before he gave it serious thought. What did he really want his GM to do?
Now, this is an accomplished business leader who has hired many employees. In the past he hired for passion and then found that employee "the right seat on the bus.” But his company had grown, and he knew he needed to fill a specific position and that meant someone with distinct skills and talents. So why did the CEO initially brush off my question? Perhaps we're afraid of appearing to be foolishly unrealistic or unattractively self-absorbed. Maybe the exercise of listing all the things we want seems patently obvious, and time consuming. Do it anyway for two big reasons:
1. It shows respect for others.
When the CEO thoroughly defines what is expected of the GM, the candidates have the opportunity to say yes or no or maybe. They have a voice in the conversation.
2. Eliminates the confusion caused by unstated assumptions.
The list of wants must include behavioral expectations. Things like working late to complete projects, or the use of personal time during working hours. Company culture can be fractured and careers derailed by unstated assumptions. Avoid these problems and clearly describe how work is expected to be conducted.
So here's a partial list of what the CEO wanted in his GM: an ability to develop operational directives for the company, strong leadership for his management team, deep connections with suppliers to enhance vendor relationships, a history of personal integrity, willingness to be an intellectual partner, demonstrated love for the business and a passion to help grow the company. Will my client a candidate with all these qualities? Probably not, but the CEO now knows what skills and traits are important and he can evaluate which tradeoffs are acceptable.
Not only will the CEO's clarity about the role of the GM make it easier to evaluate candidates it is the foundation of a strong working relationship with the new GM.
It takes time and personal honesty to define what you really want in a particular situation. But make the investment. It will pay off, I promise.