by Jay Love
I hope the title of my post captured your attention. That question recently came to mind following three events in my world as CEO of Slingshot SEO. The first came from an article in one of the numerous newsletters, blogs and journals I read each month. Over the years I have found my never ending reading appetite has served me well when I try to connect the dots from a diverse array of sources.
In this particular case, a newsletter about executive recruiting triggered a connection to the interviewing process for a key executive slot for an organization I serve on the board of. And this all tied into answering questions presented to me by a Chief Marketing Officer of a large perspective client.
Connecting the Dots
Let’s start with the first dot. Rich Campbell, the co-founder of Cameron Carmichael, a nationally recognized CEO recruiting firm based in Charlotte, N.C., has become a friend of mine over the last few years. I always look forward to his newsletters because they offer unique yet concrete analysis regarding recruiting the very best talent for any top management role in your business.
His most recent article revolved around the value of having adversity or failure in any executive’s past background to strengthen him. I totally agree with his opinion, the lessons gained from failure stick with anyone much longer than any lessons from a string of successes! (Obviously, those successful experiences must be there too . . . )
A few key excerpts from Rich’s article:
“Abraham Lincoln said that people think that the real test of a person’s character is how they deal with adversity . . .”
“. . . We are constantly tweaking our process on how we find the “right candidate” for a specific role. It is always easy to find the tangible skills (industry experience, demonstrated track record of success, functional expertise, etc.) when hiring an executive; however, the most challenging aspect of the process is uncovering a candidate’s intangible skills (character, management style, values, cultural fit) and deciding if the candidate is a match for success. Most of the time the answer lies in a person’s character. Besides performing detailed referencing, what can you ask a candidate to identify true character?
One of the best series of questions we ask potential candidates is: “Where in your personal or professional life have you faced the most adversity?” and “How did you deal with it, and how did it shape you?” Most of the time candidates open up with very detailed, honest examples of how they might have been fired, lost a loved one or co-worker, grew up without any parents or came from humble beginnings . . . .”
“. . . While at a Harvard Business School reunion this past summer, one of my partners listened to a panel of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. A panel member stated when he is hiring a CEO for a company, he definitely looks for someone who has a successful track record, but he also wants someone who has experienced failure in a prior role or company. This venture capitalist strongly believes an executive learns most from a failure or disappointment and likely would not repeat the same mistake in the future . . . “
“. . . When hiring your next Chief Executive Officer or team member, we strongly suggest using . . . Abraham Lincoln’s litmus test on dealing with adversity . . . Truly understanding how a candidate handled adversity . . . or have had to make tough choices will ultimately help you hire the right person.”
The Second Connection
Rich’s excellent article led me directly to the second dot. I perused his article while eating breakfast early the same morning I was about to interview the top two candidates for a key role at an organization I serve on the board of. During the in-depth interview I use 20-25 probing questions. I always dig deep into examples of success in numerous experience areas. I also dig just as deep into the areas of adversity and failure.
As you might guess, today those latter probes were relentless. One candidate spoke quite openly of two failures and the lesson learned from them. The other candidate “just couldn’t think of any failures” at first. But the candidate soon realized he might as well get up and leave if he did not come up with at least one. The candidate finally discussed a feeble, at best, experience, which had gone slightly awry. Which one do you think I insisted the organization make the offer to?
The Third Dot
The third dot occurred the following day when a prospective client CMO asked me directly “Why is Slingshot SEO so successful at performing search engine optimization?” Most of you are probably way ahead of me, but I will share my answer anyway because it is so logical. I stated much of our success and knowledge is based upon learning from past digital relevance strategies that were unsuccessful at materially increasing search engine rankings. Each ineffective avenue taken eliminates a course of action which fails from being used again in the future. Doing only SEO work for hundreds of North America’s top brands allows us the luxury to try nearly infinite options. Our methodology literally functions as a large Internet laboratory where such experiments lead to proven methods of success.
So you see, a few failures can truly lead to a long string of successes! Just connect the dots . . .