In this President's Letter we explore the question:
Is your success directly related to the title or
the person you're reporting to?
President, JB Homer Associates
by Louis Gerzofsky
"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.
You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions."
A big part of our job in executive search is to assess a candidate's motivation and drive. One of the questions we ask is: "What would you like to see in your next role that you don't have now?" It sounds innocuous enough but it tends to provoke answers that typically include the desire to report to the CEO: "It's a seat at the table." "I'll have Board access." "I'll finally have influence." "It'll make it much easier for me to eventually become a COO or CEO."
Some of our candidates seem to overlook the true indicators of genuine, long term executive success when they set their hearts on reporting to the CEO of a company: chemistry, cultural fit, influencing skills, adaptability and courage, to name just a handful. Excellent executives are more interested in determining if their potential manager possesses these indicators than they are in his title.
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Preparation has always been a crucial component to your success. Preparing thoughtful, probing questions before an interview or meeting will help you understand the company's culture as well as the strategic vision of the executive leadership team. And, most importantly, your emotional intelligence will help you determine whether or not you can work for and partner with the person in front of you, regardless of his title.
These are some of the same questions we ask executives during our assessments, so I hope you find them useful as well:
Who will be your key partners and collaborators within the organization?
You need to understand the individual's influence within the company and the level of respect he generates. His ability to influence people and events will be an important determinant in your ability to effect change. This question will also help you get a sense of how this individual goes about assessing risk and overcoming challenges. The prospect of working for a collaborative and respected CFO or COO will likely net you a more productive and long lasting experience with your new company than hitching your star to a disengaged or isolated CEO.
What are some of the accomplishments they're most proud of?
Working for an intelligent person who really 'gets' technology can be a wonderful thing. But if your prospective boss doesn't have a successful track record of delivering results then regardless of his title, you may feel very frustrated very quickly. This is important information for your decision making process.
What are some of the significant technology initiatives in flight and what is on the drawing board?
It's important for you to gauge how conversant and comfortable this person is with technology's inherently disruptive capabilities. He doesn't have to have a financial background to view technology as 'merely' a cost. I've sat in front of more than a few CFO's who see technology as their company's future and because they know where the bottom line actually exists, are prepared to build a case for an aggressive capital budget.
What will success look like over the next one to three years?
You have to understand the depth and breadth of this person's vision. What does the future look like to this executive? What is the roadmap for getting there? Would you be working for a CEO who's bent on playing it safe and doesn't want to challenge the Board? Or, a COO who understands the need for transformation and has a track record of championing innovative executives who drive change? Ask yourself which person is more likely to view technology as a differentiator for the company's success.
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You're a successful executive because you have never taken a cookie cutter approach to solving problems and meeting your goals. Curiosity and an open mind are two of the main reasons why you have been an invaluable member of various organizations. So why take a cookie cutter approach to your own career? The letters in a person's title only scratch the surface of who they are, what they have accomplished and where they are going.
"It is the nature, and the advantage, of strong people that they can bring out the crucial questions and form a clear opinion about them."
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer