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Hire and promote for head and heart

Bob Vanourek //March 12, 2014//

Hire and promote for head and heart

Bob Vanourek //March 12, 2014//

The way most leaders go about identifying and promoting talent is utterly insufficient for what is needed to create a great organization. They focus mostly on the head and neglect the heart. They emphasize hard skills and capabilities like knowledge, skills, and expertise. They assess intelligence, education, pedigree, experience, technical competence, skills, and other conventional indicators.

Of course, those factors are critical, and sometimes raw brainpower is especially important. Princeton University’s former president, Shirley Tilghman, told us, “Brains really matter. You can’t be a leader here if you’re not smart.” Ron Sugar, former CEO and Chairman of Northrop-Grumman (a global provider of military and commercial security systems), told us, “A lot of our work is literally rocket science, so we have 45,000 outstanding scientists and engineers.”

Even in intellectual and technical environments, the head is only part of the equation. Lynn Easterling, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Cisco Systems, told us, “I can teach the hard skills, but I can’t teach good character or good relational skills. It’s much easier to find people with the hard skills than it is to find the people with both the hard and soft skills.”

Heart includes intangibles like character, will, passion, compassion, courage, and persistence. Heart encompasses what energizes people, what carries them through adversity, what drives them to win.

Heart reveals the character within. People with heart show a fierce commitment to their enterprise, demonstrating loyalty to their colleagues and passion for the group’s aims. They show a healthy ambition to win and build something enduring and impactful. This fuels their performance and sustains them amidst adversity.

Some leaders say this heart stuff is too soft and fluffy and not sufficiently actionable. We disagree. Triple crown leadership proactively seeks, develops, and rewards people with both head and heart. It fills the enterprise with them, transforming both the people and the place in the process.

Heart begins with one’s personal integrity. People with integrity do the right thing even when it is personally painful. People with integrity are authentic and comfortable in their own skin, flaws included.

Triple crown leaders are adamant about hiring people with character. They look for trustworthiness, humility, courage, eagerness to serve, realization there is something bigger than the self, and even a sense of personal purpose, often flowing from a spiritual perspective. Triple crown leaders do not expect perfection, but they do probe for what people learned when they made mistakes.

Heart traits are worthy in and of themselves but also have important benefits. Stephen M. R. Covey, author of the books Smart Trust and The Speed of Trust, writes, “Trust is a function of two things: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, your track record. And both are vital.”

The top criteria Procter and Gamble use to determine promotions for senior executives are character, values, and integrity.

Another key component of heart is cultural fit. Triple crown leaders get to know people at a deeper level to assess whether they are a good fit with the enterprise.

Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, focuses on “fit and fitness” for the company culture when interviewing executives. She is personally involved with the hiring decision of every person in the top two levels of the company: “I want to know who they are,” she explained to us. “I want to make sure they fit the organization and have fitness for what we want them to do. I want them to fit with our values and culture.” Burns no longer interviews to determine task skills, relying on others to screen such head matters. Instead, she probes for character, humility, empathy, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, authenticity, and fearlessness. In other words, she looks for heart.

For sample interview questions to probe a candidate’s heart qualities, visit our website:

Practical Applications

  1. To what extent do people in your organization have good head and heart qualities?
  2. Do you assess a job candidate’s heart qualities? What more should you do?
  3. Does your organization recognize and reward people for both head and heart?