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The Simple Truth


By Kathy Leonard, President of Freeman+Leonard

I’ve been reading The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. You’ve likely heard his simple, yet challenging, hiring missive for impacting culture and filling your company with ideal team players: Identify candidates who are, in equal measure, Lencioni says, humble, hungry and smart. Following his posit, people who are humble are not arrogant and do not seek praise for themselves. They are more interested in doing great work than in receiving accolades. Hungry describes people who have an energy and an appetite for more: more work, more opportunity and more responsibility. According to the author, smart describes someone who has emotional intelligence, someone who can “read the room,” and can work well with other people.

As I think about the hiring failures I’ve had – and, sadly, there have been a few – I can generally see, in retrospect, where at least one of the three virtues was missing. Characteristics of ideal team players also seem to predict success in those in commissioned sales roles, people not typically considered team players. Recently we lost an experienced sales person who was smart as a whip and quite humble.  Unfortunately, I now realize she just wasn’t hungry. She lacked the drive, assertiveness and “get-it-done” attitude that could have propelled her to a successful selling career. In another case, we had a recruiter who was hungry, humble and book smart, but he didn’t have the emotional intelligence to understand our culture or connect and become a true member of the team.

I put a lot of stock in Lencioni’s ideal virtues of humble, hungry and smart. Many of our clients administer lengthy personality and aptitude tests in a desperate effort to predict hiring success or failure. Often those tests predict with positive results, yet it seems that just as often they don’t. How much simpler to focus on these three virtues of humble, hungry and smart.

New employees whose values match the company’s adjust to their jobs more quickly, are more satisfied and often have longer tenure. Hiring the right people from the start saves time, money and much frustration for all. When we can ask questions that get at these virtues, and train our hiring managers and decision influencers to do the same, we’re a huge step ahead in developing a successful team that can drive the business needed for a successful company.

Finding Humble:

“I’d really like to know what your last boss would say you need to work on.” Humble people are often not afraid to share their weaknesses or unflattering stories.

Humble people have no issue with giving kudos to others,  Ego-driven people often do.

Finding Hungry:

“What is the hardest, most challenging thing you’ve ever worked on?” Look for stories of joyful sacrifice: not complaining but grateful for the tough experience.

What kind of hours do you work, generally?” A candidate who likes a predictable work schedule and talks a lot about “balance” may not be terribly hungry.

Finding Smart:

“What do you do that others find annoying?” Lencioni says that smart people are neither immune to this nor are they in the dark. They can tell you what about themselves may annoy others and generally moderate these behaviors at work.

“Can you give me an example of demonstrating empathy with a teammate?”  Smart people value empathy.

Finally, the most important question is one you ask yourself. “Would I want to work with this person every day?” Smart candidates will be those you’d enjoy being with. We have been known to ask each other after interviewing a candidate, “Would you want to drink a beer with him,” or “Would you spend a couple of hours over a glass of wine with her.” How you answer these gets to the core of personality and culture fit for your team.

Of course, many data points are collected when making a hiring decision. But occasionally, removing the complications and complexities can reveal simple truths. In this case, the simple truth is that hiring people who display, in equal parts, humble, hungry and smart can be the easier way to building a strong culture and an effective team.