From Hiring for Smarts to Hiring for Smart+Heart - Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today - Susan Scott

Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today - Susan Scott (2009)

Fierce Practice #2. From Hiring for Smarts to Hiring for Smart+Heart

We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead; it can only serve.


Oh, how one wishes sometimes to escape from the meaningless dullness of human eloquence, from all those sublime phrases, to take refuge in … a human understanding rendered speechless

by emotion!


Iam a fan of Deadwood, HBO’s Shakespeare-goes-to-South-Dakota-during-the-gold-rush hit series. During Keith Carradine’s interview of David Milch, the creator of Deadwood, Milch said, “Reason is about seventeenth on the list of attributes that define us as a species, and as far as I’m concerned, they can lower it, no problem.”

In Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee’s book, Elizabeth Costello, the story unfolds through a series of lectures. Elizabeth argues:

Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) … is a formula I have always been uncomfortable with. It implies that a living being that does not do what we call thinking is somehow second-class. To thinking, cogitation, I oppose fullness, embodiedness … being alive in the world. This fullness contrasts starkly with Descartes’ key state, which has an empty feel to it: the feel of a pea rattling around in a shell. … The heart is the seat of a faculty, sympathy, that allows us to share at times the being of another. … There are people who have the capacity to imagine themselves as someone else, there are people who have no such capacity (when the lack is extreme, we call them psychopaths), and there are people who have the capacity but choose not to exercise it. … If principles are what you want to take away from this talk, I would have to respond, open your heart and listen to what your heart says.

No great weight rests on whether I agree with Coetzee’s formidable character, Elizabeth. I believe, however, that the behavior of those who miss or dismiss her argument accounts for much of the pain humans inflict on one another and for the national and global train wrecks that frequently sweep the headlines.

Far too often, the primary focus of an organization’s hiring practices is to hire people with “credentials’—academic pedigrees, high IQs or test scores. What many leaders don’t realize is that increasing a company’s “smarts” by 25 percent will not translate into revenue growth of 25 percent. Not even close. Consider the following story.

The “Firm”

I was once invited to work with a widely respected, global provider of business consulting services that wanted to improve sales. Because its reputation for excellence was legendary, prospective clients would call with an identified need and the members of the “firm,” as they called it (a code word for a company that is enamored with pedigree and probably refers to its executives as “partners”), would craft a proposal for how they might be able to help. The firm would send in its brightest and best, do its due diligence, build an impressive PowerPoint deck, and pitch its solution to the prospective client—who would thank the firm for its proposal and promptly hire the other guys. The firm was losing too many sales, a troublesome and expensive trend, and it wanted to understand why.

After talking with several of the firm’s lost customers, the answer was clear. Customers liked the other guys better. Liked their solutions better? No. Liked their pricing better? No. Liked their PowerPoint presentations better? No. They liked the people better. They actually looked forward to working with the people on the competition’s team. In contrast, they experienced the firm’s consultants as a bit arrogant and aloof. They may have been smart, but they lacked warmth, personality.

The moment of truth is when you ask, “Are these the people I want to be in trouble with for the next five, ten, fifteen years of my life?” Because as you build a business, one thing’s for sure: You’ll get in trouble.

John Doerr

As John Doerr, legendary venture capitalist, said, “The moment of truth is when you ask, ‘Are these the people I want to be in trouble with for the next five, ten, fifteen years of my life?’ Because as you build a business, one thing’s for sure: You’ll get in trouble.”

The firm’s ideas and plans were better on paper than their competitors’, but the moment-of-truth answer to John Doerr’s question was often no. Potential clients simply did not look forward to working with the firm’s brightest and best on extensive, long-term projects, no matter how elegant the solutions proposed.

After interviewing staff members, I learned that many of them experienced a similar arrogance from the people at the top. Rank was everything. Partners were God. Everyone else was, well, “administrative staff” (spoken in hushed tones, as if referring to an invalid in the back bedroom with some vaguely diagnosed, potentially fatal malady). Partners were friendly enough, polite, but there was an invisible barrier that was felt, but hard to name, between partners and nonpartners.

It became clear that though the firm was well respected for its skilled and intelligent consultants, the firm’s consultants simply did not connect with clients at an emotional level. Nor did they connect with many employees, whose relationship with the firm was merely a business transaction, an exchange of time and talent for a paycheck.

When I finally met with the regional managing director (let’s call him Steve, not his real name), he told me that the firm had just lost another significant piece of work—one that would have brought in almost a billion dollars in revenue—after having spent more than 2 million pulling top people together from around the world to design a solution that would have accomplished everything the client wanted and more. The solution was so good, he’d been sure they’d win the work.

He looked miserable. “So what have you got?”

I shared what I had learned from lost clients, particularly the comment I’d heard over and over: “We like the other guys better.” I began to summarize: “Brilliant solutions are getting you to the table and no further, mostly because the other guys come across as genuinely likable people. They’re smart, and they’re also relaxed, authentic, natural. They’re excited about their solutions, while remaining curious and interested in learning from their clients, rather than arrogant and cocksure. And all of this comes across to prospective clients.”

He waited. …

I sensed the subtext: And we fix this how…?

“So your problem has nothing to do with the quality of the solutions you design or how smart your people are. They’re plenty smart. They impress clients intellectually, but they aren’t engaging them emotionally.”

I thought he flinched slightly at the word emotionally.

I continued, “No matter how calm, cool, and collected clients may seem in all those meetings leading up to the proposal, the decision about whom they will ultimately hire, assuming proposals are workable and reasonably priced, will be made first for emotional reasons, second for rational reasons. It’s likely they aren’t entirely aware of this themselves, but the fact is, their emotions are in the lead position, and this is where you’re not on an even playing field. I suspect when you compare credentials to credentials, expertise to expertise, innovation to innovation, fees to fees, this firm can match any competitor. But there is another ingredient. The tiebreaker, the place where you will improve the firm’s win ratio and increase revenue, resides in the area of human connectivity.”

The tiebreaker, the place where you will improve the firm’s win ratio and increase revenue, resides in the area of human connectivity.

I heard a noise in Steve’s throat that sounded like the fracture of ice underfoot. He seemed frozen in his chair. I let silence do the heavy lifting.

He squinted. “So what are you suggesting?”

“I’m suggesting that the task is to improve your partners’ ability to connect with clients emotionally as well as intellectually, from the first interaction to winning the work to implementing the solutions. Given the cost of a typical client engagement, the potential can be described as significant. And having talked with your support staff, I would encourage extending this connectivity to them, as well, resulting in happier, more productive associates.”

Steve’s face began to lose color.

I leaned forward.

If you doubt that your organization is involved in an emotional enterprise, just ask that client who was considering spending a billion dollars with you.

“If you doubt that your organization is involved in an emotional enterprise, just ask that client who was considering spending a billion dollars with you. Ask your administrative staff, the people who decide every day how much discretionary effort they will make available to the task at hand.

“The world is changing. No matter what any of us is shopping for, we can find good products, good services, good solutions. We want to enjoy the experience of using those products, those services. This firm doesn’t have a lock on brilliance. Your prospective clients can find that elsewhere. They want to enjoy the experience of implementing a brilliant solution in collegial and congenial partnership with the people who brought it to them. And based on their comments, they don’t feel assured of an enjoyable experience with the partners of this firm. Meanwhile, some of your employees are restless. Many want more than a paycheck. They would like the experience of working here to leave them whole, proud, feeling good about themselves, happy most of the time, which is not everyone’s current reality. As soon as the economy improves, they’re outta here. Even partners are bailing.

“High on the list of priorities on the order of ‘can’t really live without’ are deeply rewarding relationships with the people who are central to our success and happiness, at work and at home. And to be joyful much of the time. The lack of human connectivity is robbing many people of joy and is literally costing the firm millions in employee and partner turnover.”

I suspected that “joy” was not a concept entertained within the firm’s walls. I took a deep breath. “There’s a lot at stake for everyone regarding connectivity, Steve. Personally, as well as professionally. It might be worth asking your wife if she is as connected to you as she’d like to be.”

Steve was still for a long time. A look of pain hovered around his mouth. I was becoming mesmerized by the sound of the ticking clock on his desk.

Finally, he said quietly, “I know in my gut that you are right. That what you are saying is significant. But I also know that I’d never be able to sell this here. It isn’t what this firm does.”

“You’re right, it isn’t. And that’s the problem,” I said.

He shook his head. “Never in a million years. If I brought this to the CEO …” He shook his head. “But thank you.” His voice trailed off. Then he looked at me and smiled, faintly. “I will ask my wife.”

The firm continues to lose ground to its competitors, including emerging companies it hadn’t viewed as competitors. It’s sad. They are such smart people.

The Business Crisis That Smarts Can’t Solve

Let’s acknowledge that the übergoal for most organizations is growth—let’s amend that to profitable growth—while hoping that the economy doesn’t worsen and that Mother Nature doesn’t deliver a devastating blow to the general well-being of this planet. To grow profitably, a company needs to

· Provide products and services people want and, if the company is lucky, need;

· Continually win new customers and keep them;

· Recruit and retain top talent;

· Create a work environment in which all employees—male, female, straight, gay, young, aging, fit, disabled, multicultural—can thrive;

· Innovate to stay ahead of the game, ahead of the competition;

· Add new products and services;

· Develop a leadership bench capable of taking the company where it wants and needs to go;

· Execute the strategic plan and change it if it isn’t working; and

· Behave ethically!

Clearly this requires smarts. Right? Well, yes, but that’s not enough.

In 2003, Howell Raines was fired from his post as managing editor of the New York Times. Raines had every managerial advantage and a brilliant strategy, but he “lost the newsroom.” He failed to win the hearts and minds of the staff, without which he could not hope to implement his change strategy.

In 2007, Bob Nardelli was dismissed from his position as CEO of Home Depot. He had arrived with impeccable credentials and achieved dazzling financials, but he failed to connect with the shareholders, deal makers, legislators, regulators, and nongovernmental organizations who wanted to have a say in how the company was run and on whom the company’s continued success depended.

The problem for Raines and Nardelli and so many other brilliant individuals was that reason did not prevail. Raines and Nardelli alienated people, so their reasoned arguments fell on deaf ears.

Yet despite all the evidence pointing to the fact that it is the deeply feeling, emotionally intelligent people who are best equipped to deliver these results, many leaders continue to focus on hiring and promoting people with pedigrees, graduates of the best business colleges, who, talented though they are, do not view human connectivity as relevant to their success. Why? Because nowhere in their education have they been taught to focus on the human side of their subjects.

Meanwhile, the organization’s strategy keeps stalling. Cross-boundary collaboration isn’t happening. Leaders play Whac-a-Mole, micromanaging as opposed to leading. Original thinking is happening elsewhere. Employees have little or no emotional connection to the organization and its customers. Loyal customers are hard to come by. Relationships steadily disintegrate, one failed or missing conversation at a time.

At such a crossroads, leaders tend to review measurable goals, economic indicators, cash-flow projections, process, and procedures. Staggering amounts of money are dedicated to reviewing basic business processes, while employees long for one galvanizing conversation. Just one. I know. I’ve talked with thousands of these employees.

In an article titled “Most Likely to Succeed,” Malcolm Gladwell asks, “Who do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?” Gladwell points out that in standardized tests that measure the academic performance of students, a good teacher trumps a school, class size, or curriculum design—hands down. The difference a good teacher makes, even in a bad school, can amount to a year and a half’s worth of learning in a single year, whereas a bad teacher in a good school may teach half a year’s worth of learning in a year and a half!

What makes for a bad teacher? Things like rigid control, broadcasting from the front of the room, and yes/no, right/wrong feedback. What makes for a good teacher? Things like creating a “holding space” for lively interaction, flexibility in how students become engaged in a topic, a regard for student perspective, the ability to personalize the material for each student, responding to questions and answers with sensitivity, and providing high-quality feedback “where there is a back-and-forth exchange to get a deeper understanding.”

Sounds like the behavior of a good leader. Certainly, a teacher is the leader of a classroom, with a focus on performance, achievement. So here comes the kicker.

Gladwell writes, “A group of researchers—Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard’s school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress—have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master’s degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom.”

In Blink, Gladwell points to Dr. Wendy Levinson, an international expert in the field of the physician-patient relationship. Dr. Levinson looked at why some doctors who make mistakes that put their patients’ lives in jeopardy get sued, and others don’t. Dr. Levinson found that patients sued doctors they didn’t like and didn’t sue doctors they did like, even if the doctor they like made a mistake.

And why do patients like or dislike their doctors? The decision was not rational. Physicians who don’t get sued take a little more time—three minutes more than physicians who do get sued. And it was the quality of the physician-patient conversation, how the doctors talked with their patients—notice with, not to their patients—that made the difference. Patients like doctors who really listen, draw their patients out (tell me more about that), and answer their questions fully. Those three extra minutes and how they were used were the differentiator. In the blink of three minutes, the patient felt seen, heard, understood, valued, and respected. You don’t get that in every doctor’s office. Or in every executive’s office.

Book smarts don’t guarantee good teachers, good doctors, or good leaders, because these aren’t cognitive skills. No one’s knocking an excellent education from a good school. It’s just that this isn’t enough. In fact, fewer young people are interested in attaining an MBA, because they recognize that the emerging right-brain economy requires a set of skills and characteristics not taught in most business schools. Many Gen Xers and Yers tell me they see value in forging more meaningful relationships at work, while struggling to get beyond the usual, superficial agenda they can’t quite put their fingers on. These are the people—the ones who are both smart and engaged, who value human connection—that we are choosing for leadership roles today, globally. They understand that, while no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.

Fewer young people are interested in attaining an MBA, because they recognize that the emerging right-brain economy requires a set of skills and characteristics not taught in most business schools.

Practicing Squid Eye

What might you notice if you were practicing squid eye that would suggest a focus on hiring smart people is causing more problems in your organization than it’s solving? Check any of the following “tells” that apply to your team or company. Or to you.

Leaders suffer from excessive certitude. In meetings, people stubbornly cling to their ideas (sometimes at length!) in an attempt to impress others with the brilliance of their thinking. Their goal is to influence. It does not occur to them that an equally valid goal would be to be influenced, to have their own learning provoked. Nothing new emerges, because individuals are focused on being right rather than on making the best possible decisions for the organization.

Excessive use of jargon is a badge of honor. Three-letter acronyms (TLAs!) have their use. It takes less time to say ADP than Automatic Data Processing, CBA as opposed to cost-benefit analysis, EAP rather than employee assistance program, FOD rather than field observation demonstration. But when did we determine that as the notable computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra said, “no endeavour is respectable these days without a TLA”? My all-time personal favorite four-letter acronym was conjured up within a global organization: FLOG, which stands for feedback log, as in “Have you been flogged lately?” And consider words like componentize. Nigh unpronounceable, it apparently means “to turn into a component.” For what purpose will remain a mystery. I digress. The point is that people who use empty, meaningless jargon are the people who have nothing insightful to say. Internally and with customers, jargon lands like a stone.

The competition is surpassing you. You pull several all-nighters and spend hundreds, thousands, or millions preparing your pitch to a prospective customer. You feel great about the brilliant solution you’ve come up with and know it will work. You want this job, need this job. You go to the client meeting higher than a kite, leave the meeting unsure, a not-so-good feeling in your stomach, and find out a day, week, month later that the customer went with the other guys. You lose sleep for days wondering WHY.

“Loyal” customers are leaving. Joseph Pine wrote that today’s economy is an “experience economy,” meaning that customers want more than a good product or service; they want to enjoy the experience of using a product or service, which begins with their first interaction with a company. So if, in spite of all your customer-service training and “customer-facing” procedures, policies, and scripts, customers aren’t feeling the love, you’re in trouble. Love?Yes.

Your margins are shrinking. Your product or service has become a commodity, and you’ve been competing primarily on price. Though you believe you offer the best—whatever it is you offer—your customers believe they can find what you offer elsewhere. And they can—for less and/or for a better experience—so they’re leaving. Meanwhile, you keep lowering your price, and customers continue to leave. Your top line may be impressive. Your bottom line is troubling.

Implementation—of almost anything—is agonizingly slow, fraught with delays. A costly outcome for companies focused on hiring smart people is a lack of alignment, cooperation, and collaboration throughout the organization. A matrixed organization filled with smart people who fail to connect with one another, have no desire to connect, and, in fact, do not know how to connect with their peers in other parts of the organization produces a silo mentality. In its most simplistic form, the thinking is This solution or decision solves my problem; too bad if it causes new problems for others. Whether you have fifty employees or fifty thousand, initiatives stall, and you incur financial and cultural penalties as a result.

Competitors can poach your talent. Countless surveys show that human beings desire ongoing, deep connection to their coworkers and to the companies they work for. If your organization’s relationship with associates is based primarily on an exchange of time and talent for a paycheck, you’re a source for headhunters who will have no trouble luring your “high potentials” to companies with something more appealing going on, where there is more to the human dynamic than “I’m smarter than you are.”

What Were We Thinking?

Despite more and more experts writing and talking about the indisputable role of emotions in the workplace, many of us remain reluctant to acknowledge and deal with our own emotions, much less those of others. Sadly, all too often we are decidedly uncomfortable with the thought of actively surfacing and dealing with emotions (notice the negative language—”dealing with”) because of long-held beliefs about the role of emotions in the workplace, drummed into us since we took our first business course or began our first job.

Which beliefs do you hold?

I believe that:

I believe that:

Emotions have no place at work.

Emotions are running the show at work, as well as at home, so it’s important to surface and acknowledge them.

Any display of emotion, apart from excitement or enthusiasm, is unprofessional and will be judged as such by others.

Emotion is part of what makes us human, what motivates us, for good or bad, so when people express emotion, I need to pay attention.

I don’t have time to deal with emotions; I have a to-do list that would fell an ox. People should just do their jobs.

Dealing with emotions can take time; not dealing with emotions will take longer.

If people want love and affection, they should buy a puppy! Not my job!

A central part of my job is to build a culture that includes genuine affection for and an emotional connection with coworkers and customers.

I will impress colleagues and customers with what I know, persuade them with my intelligence and logic. They should listen to me. If they don’t, they’re stupid.

If I want people to respect me and commit to the course I recommend, I must respect and commit to them. If I don’t, I’m stupid.

Let’s revisit the question, what do you win? What do you win if you win your argument for the beliefs on the left? All of the tells you spotted with squid eye. Since most organizations produce good products and services and offer competitive pricing, the key to disrupting the level playing field must reside elsewhere. It does. It resides in the heart.

If You’re Still Not Convinced, Think Nobel Prize

In 2002, the Nobel Prize for economics was awarded to Daniel Kahneman, a psychology professor at Princeton, whose studies proved beyond any doubt that we behave emotionally first, rationally second. This is not a new-age thing. Or a cultural thing. It’s the human condition.

The implications are stunning, particularly for companies that have a relationship with their customers based primarily on price and a relationship with their employees based on an exchange of time and talent for a paycheck.

Greatness in individuals and organizations is not a function of intelligence—there is plenty of IQ out there—but of emotional capital, the ability to connect with people on a human level. And each of us accumulates or loses emotional capital—building relationships we enjoy or endure with colleagues, bosses, customers, and other partners—one conversation at a time. Without relationships, we have no voltage. The first company in any industry that significantly improves its human connectivity skills will take the field.

We are emotional beings engaged in emotional enterprises.

We are emotional beings engaged in emotional enterprises. Without an emotional impetus, we withhold our best efforts, drag our feet, delay decisions, or walk away altogether. The competition offers a better price, and “loyal” customers leave. Talented, unengaged employees learn of a work environment in which they sense they’ll be happier, and they, too, will be gone, even if they must take lower salaries, pay higher medical deductibles, and endure longer commutes.

This is not hypothetical. The lack of meaningful connections with coworkers and customers is costing companies billions annually.

Consider what the following data means to you and your organization:

· Experienced partners in a multinational consulting firm (obviously not the firm in the story) who scored above the median on the competencies of emotional intelligence delivered $1.2 million more profit from their accounts than did other partners—a 139 percent incremental gain.

· At L’Oréal, sales agents selected on the basis of emotional competencies significantly outsold salespeople selected using the company’s old selection procedure. Sales increased by $91,370 for every sales person hired specifically for his or her EQ skills. The cosmetic giant also had a 63 percent lower turnover rate among the salespeople hired for their EQ than among those who weren’t.

· Gallup Organization case studies revealed that “regardless of how high a company’s customer satisfaction levels may appear to be, satisfying customers without creating an emotional connection with them has no real value. None at all.” While an emotional connection with customers is always important, it is a requirement during an economic downturn, when customers are hunkered down, giving careful thought to how they spend their money. Trouble is, if you suddenly find you need to make that emotional connection, it’s usually too late.

· After supervisors in a manufacturing plant received training in how to listen better and help employees resolve problems on their own, lost-time accidents were reduced by 50 percent, formal grievances were reduced from an average of fifteen per year to three per year, and the plant exceeded productivity goals by $250,000.

· The United States Air Force dramatically reduced its annual recruiter turnover rate from 35 percent to 5 percent, which translated into savings of $3 million a year, when it selected candidates who had high emotional intelligence.

· Study after study has shown that teams are more creative and productive when they can achieve high levels of participation, cooperation, and collaboration among members. But interactive behaviors like these aren’t easy to legislate.

· A study of 130 executives found that how well people handled their own emotions determined how much people around them preferred to deal with them. (Ya think?)

· For 515 senior executives analyzed by the search firm Egon Zehnder International, emotional competencies were better predictors of success than either relevant previous experience or IQ.

· Directors of MBA programs are rethinking their curriculum to include courses that help develop human connectivity skills. Hooray!

· An analysis of more than three hundred top-level sales executives from fifteen global companies showed that emotional competencies distinguished the stars from the average.

· A new study of hiring managers across industries reported in the magazine Chief Learning Officer revealed that the primary reasons new hires fail are interpersonal, not technical. Twenty-six percent failed because they couldn’t accept feedback (you know where I stand on “feedback” of the anonymous variety and why most people have trouble accepting it), and another 23 percent didn’t last because they were unable to understand and manage emotions. Thinking back, hiring managers said that there had been clues—tells—but they simply hadn’t paid attention to them, and their hiring practices didn’t assess a candidate’s ability to acquire emotional capital.

Your Most Valuable Currency

The implications for our individual careers are also impressive. Daniel Goleman suggests, “As a leader moves up in an organization, up to 90 percent of their success lies in emotional intelligence.” In other words, nine out of ten executives who derail do so because they lack emotional competencies! The three primary derailers are difficulty handling change, not being able to work well in a team, and poor interpersonal relations. Yep, that would pretty much do it!

And did you know that in top leadership positions, over four-fifths of the difference in performance is due to emotional competence? Four-fifths!

“The idiot’s warehouse is full of merchandise.”


Hafiz wrote, “The idiot’s warehouse is full of merchandise.” I can picture this “idiot,” surrounded by his “stuff”—the beautiful office, framed degrees on the wall, high position on the org chart. And he is lonely and ineffective—emotionally anorexic. His smarts have gotten him this far, but now he’s stuck and hasn’t a clue why.

Intelligent people quickly realize that a leader’s most valuable currency—your most valuable currency—is not money, nor is it IQ, multiple degrees, fluency in three-letter acronyms, the number of technical gizmos attached to your person, the number of reorganizations under your belt, good looks, charisma, self-sufficiency, industry experience, or the ability to analyze a case study, read a profit and loss statement, or build a really cool PowerPoint deck.

Your most valuable currency is relationship, emotional capital, the ability to connect with others. In fact, no matter how much “smarts” we may have, I think we are lonely and empty every moment of our lives until we connect emotionally, as well as intellectually, with at least one other person.

Arjuna Ardagh captured this beautifully in The Translucent Revolution: How People Just Like You Are Waking Up and Changing the World:

We constantly resist not only our grief, but also our wild passion and sexuality, our anger, even our exuberance and joy, repressing their free expression. Big feelings overwhelm us. They can easily upset the fragile equilibrium of our lives. We keep a lid on ourselves, till we periodically explode. We don’t realize that any deep feeling, pleasurable or painful, can be a wave we surf home into ourselves, into love.

The bold headline, the key message, of this practice, is the main premise of all things fierce:

If you want to become a great leader, gain the capacity to connect with colleagues and customers at a deep level …

… or lower your aim.

Human connectivity is the uberskill that captures the ideal combination of IQ and EQ. You simply cannot connect with colleagues and customers at a deep level unless you are able to bring valuable expertise to the relationship and you are able to access and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.

I have met smart, empty people. Peas rattling around in a shell.

Building high-performing, enduring, profitable relationships with employees and customers requires that we explore, embrace, and ultimately rely on emotion in work that is, at the end of the day, deeply human.

I have met smart, empty people. Peas rattling around in a shell. You have too. I’ve also met smart, open-hearted people. Campfires around which we gladly gather. Which would you rather hire? Whom would you like to work alongside?

My personal epiphany has been, If I’m so smart, I’m halfway there. Einstein understood this. So does the poet David Whyte, who wrote:


In every office

you hear the threads
of love and joy and fear and guilt,
the cries for celebration and reassurance,
and somehow you know that connecting those threads
is what you are supposed to do
and business takes care of itself.

Fierce leaders connect those threads every day.

The great differentiator going forward, the next frontier for exponential growth, the place where individuals and organizations will find a new and sustainable competitive edge, resides in the area of human connectivity.

It is here that significant gains can be made in uncontested market space, employee engagement, leadership effectiveness, and career potential. The benefits are noticeable both within the organization—improved workplace relations—and in the marketplace—improved market share.

This potential is significant.

The Fierce Practice: Hire Smart+Heart People

IQ may get people hired. EQ gets them promoted. Populating an organization with people who have smarts and heart is not an option; it’s essential to success. So let’s get to it.


Begin by identifying the key emotional attributes of a potential hire. So what does a highly intelligent person who can also connect with people at a deep level look like in person? How would we identify him or her? Like Paul with the squid, you must first figure out what you are looking for. Of course, the necessary skill sets, experience, and attributes will differ depending on the job, but some attributes should always make the list. For example, “integrity” is almost always on everyone’s list, but what about “relationship oriented” or “ability to connect with others”?

One of the qualities that Google looks for and measures in potential Googlers is their “Googleyness.” Is the candidate able to work effectively in a flat organization and in small teams? Can he or she respond to a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment? Does he or she seem well rounded and bring unique interests and talents to innovate in his or her work? Does he or she possess enthusiasm for the challenge of making the world a better place? This “Googley” factor plays an important role when candidates are evaluated during the hiring process, and note that nowhere in the description did I mention GPA, IQ, number of years of higher education, or any other conventional measure of “intelligence.”

Largely as a result of its hiring practices, Google is known to have one of the most engaged and productive workplaces around. While for many organizations the competition for talent is steep, people are eager to work at Google (it typically receives around 1,300 résumés a day), retention of employees is high, attrition is low, and revenues are strong. So what can you do?

Get your team together (“team” being the people the potential hire will work with AND some of the people this person will work for) and build your list. If the notion of “smart+heart” is foreign to your team, talk about it or ask team members to read this chapter before the meeting.

To “relationship oriented” and “able to connect” you might add …

· Accountable

· Authentic

· Collaborative

· Courageous

· Passionate

· Lifelong learner

· Welcomes feedback

· Biased toward action

· Solution oriented

· Change agent

A word about authenticity. I’m concerned that this word is used so frequently that it has lost meaning and impact, and that’s a shame, because authenticity is a big deal when it comes to hiring people with the capacity to connect with their colleagues and customers.

I remember the days when I would have to connect to our Internet server by clicking on “open Internet connect” on my laptop, which then offered options such as “Bluetooth,” “airport,” and “VPN.” I would click “VPN,” watch the words “connecting, connecting, connecting, connecting” scroll across my screen and then shift to “authenticating,” and I was there. Connected.

Lacking authenticity, there is no connection.

One day, while watching this process for the thousandth time, I had the apostrophe (okay, epiphany). Lacking authenticity, there is no connection. It is this connecting and authenticating that fierce conversations, fierce leadership, and fierce hiring are all about.

And, of course, it starts with each of us as individuals. You and I will find it nearly impossible to connect with each other until we have connected with ourselves, our real selves. We can’t let others into our real life if there isn’t one, if we project images we imagine others desire and those images differ depending on whom we’re with. (“Here comes the boss; let me put on my boss face. Okay, the boss has left the room and it’s just you and me. That’s a different face. Here comes the customer; let me haul that face out of the file. In fact, we call it customer-facing. At home I’ll pull out my ideal mommy, daddy, spouse face. And when I’m out in the community, when I see my pastor/priest/rabbi, well, that’s a very special face.”)

People can spot inauthenticity from fifty paces. If you hire inauthentic people, your customers and clients will notice—and feelings of distrust will return with disquieting frequency, because they’ll wonder what else your company is faking.

At Fierce, we added a few things to our list of required attributes for successful hires:

· Has a sense of humor. (Preferably warped.) We know who we are.

· Thrives in a diverse work environment. At Fierce, we are straight, lesbian, married, single, parents, grandparents, “will never have kids!,” Christian, “spiritual,” Jewish, Republican, Democrat, Independent, American, Iranian, East Coast, West Coast, dog lovers, cat lovers, opera lovers, football fanatics, Gen Y, Gen X, boomers, and a partridge in a pear tree. The partridge leads a lot of our meetings.

· Is happy and upbeat, most of the time. Someone who, in general, can focus on the good things that happen, as opposed to those whose lives are a series of freak accidents, messy relationships, and financial emergencies, reinforced by self-loathing.

· Does not harbor an unrealistic sense of entitlement. After all, the world doesn’t owe anybody anything. It was here first.

Take a moment to list the attributes important to you in a teammate and, in particular, for the position you’re filling.

Attributes essential to success in my company, in this job:

The discussion of ideal attributes will be valuable to everyone in attendance, serving as a reminder of the behaviors and characteristics that are most important, most valued by you and your team members.

Design questions that will reveal whether a candidate possesses the attributes you’re looking for. A technique called behavioral interviewing comes in handy here, but I won’t belabor it, as there are excellent resources on this topic alone. In general, the principle is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. We learn very little when we ask people to tell us about their strengths, accomplishments, even weaknesses. Clever candidates profess that their weakness is a tendency to work too hard. Yeah, right. Instead, ask them to tell you a story about how they actually handled a situation in the past; obviously, this must be a true story, with specific examples and names of other individuals involved.

For example, Helena Ferrari, director of human resources for SDC Technologies, recommends saying, “Tell me about a time when a colleague gave you advice.” This question uncovers whether someone is open to feedback, willing to change, collaborative, and respectful of co-workers. Or you could say, “Think back to a time when you were under pressure to get more done than seemed possible, and tell us how you handled that.” And just as important, “Tell us about a time when you failed.”

Questions that seek examples of previous work situations and how the candidate handled them give us a glimpse of a person’s emotional quotient—who someone really is. Such questions are far more revealing than theoretical questions such as “How would you organize a project team?” (a savvy candidate can fabricate a credible response) or leading questions such as “You’re a pretty independent worker, aren’t you?” Hint: If you say it with a smile, the answer will be “Yes. Give me a job to do, lock me in a room, and let me at it!” If you’re frowning, the answer will be “That depends on the project. When collaboration is important, I involve others so that I have all the input and support needed to do a great job.”

Candidates are clever devils, indeed.

So write down three behavioral questions that will require a candidate to help you determine if they have the “smart+heart” attributes that are most important to you.

Behavioral questions:

Before you interview, it’s also essential that you do the following:

Recognize your hiring traps. A hiring trap is a snare. Sometimes we don’t even see it, and other times we recognize the trap, but it’s so seductive that we walk right in! Common traps include the following misguided ways of thinking:

· Personal biases. “You’re like me, and since I am fantastic, I should hire you. Besides, under ‘professional and personal affiliations,’ it says ‘snowboard instructor at Stevens Pass.’ I’m a snowboarder, too, so it’s clear that you’re a cool dude.” Or “We both went to Holyoke (or Harvard or Berkeley or Iowa State or …)” or “We both started our careers as teachers (or programmers or white-water rafting guides or …)” or “We both have certificates in Web development and project management, so I should hire you!”

· Personal insecurities. “You are smarter, taller, better educated, more experienced, more attractive, and sexier than I am, which poses a threat to my personal advancement and, more important, my self-esteem. You have more bullets under “qualifications” and “accomplishments” than I could put on my résumé. I can see it now. In meetings, your ideas will be better than mine, so I shouldn’t hire you.” Or it’s the opposite …

· Résumé “puppy love.” You’ve worked for big companies, you have impressive “qualifications,” and you are certified in Seven Habits, Six Sigma, emotional intelligence, Myers-Briggs, e-learning strategies, life coaching, database administration, and log cabin construction, so we should hire you. I’ve always dreamed of building a log cabin!

· Time pressure. “It’s not just our hair that’s on fire. Various body parts are aflame. We need someone now! Your résumé indicates you have skills in the areas we’re looking for, and you haven’t been convicted of embezzling or stalking, so when can you start?!”

· Hiring for an ambiguous position. “We’ve got to add someone to the team. We’ll work out the details about your area of focus later. Meanwhile, it’s clear that you’re fluent in ‘biz dev,’ you are presentable, so I should hire you.”

· Ignoring your instinct. Very popular. “During the interview I got a nagging feeling in my gut that says something is off, but I can’t figure out what it is, and since I’m tired of interviewing and I have a lot to do and you look good on paper and both of us graduated from Sewanee, which nobody on the West Coast has heard of, and we’re both certified time-management trainers, and since we need someone in this position right away, I should hire you.”

· Broadcasting the script. “I told you what qualities we’re looking for, and you profess to have those exact qualities, so I should hire you.” If you tell the candidate exactly what qualities you are looking for, you’re just inviting a fake, scripted response. For example, if you say, “We are a very collaborative team with a bias toward action. Our focus is on making the best possible decisions, rather than always fighting for our own ideas. Tell us what’s important to you,” no one is going to respond with “I hate to collaborate. I prefer working in the dark by myself. …”

You’ve worked for big companies, you have impressive “qualifications,” and you are certifi ed in Seven Habits, Six Sigma, emotional intelligence, Myers-Briggs, e-learning strategies, life coaching, database administration, and log cabin construction, so we should hire you. I’ve always dreamed of building a log cabin!

A confession. In the early days of Fierce, we hired a wrong person (wrong for Fierce) because we fell into several of these traps during our selection process. We needed to add a business development person to the team and were charmed by Roger (not his real name), a man who came across as thoughtful, deep, a thinker. He had experience with several high-tech companies, and since we had several technology clients, we felt he would be the perfect person to work with them. We attributed certain qualities and skills to him simply because of his work history. Several of us ignored a gut feeling that he might not be right for us—something about his quietness, his reluctance to smile. We made excuses for what we didn’t want to see: “Yes, he was unusually quiet, and there were long silences when we asked him questions, but that probably means that he’s a deep thinker.” So we hired him.

In actuality, though Roger was “smart,” he was a deeply and chronically depressed person whose social skills had never developed. Whereas the rest of us leaned toward relationships, he leaned away. There was no warmth. He resisted taking his first client call, and when we finally insisted on throwing him under the bus, he was hugely relieved when the call was postponed.

He wasn’t on the bench, wasn’t on the field, wasn’t even in the locker room.

Meanwhile, we didn’t have a “bench.” We were a ten-person company and required everyone to be suited up, on the field, playing for all they were worth. But with Roger, it felt like we were one man down. He wasn’t on the bench, wasn’t on the field, wasn’t even in the locker room.

We made Roger available to industry after only two months. After he left, someone observed, “Usually, when somebody leaves and takes all their stuff with them, when I look at their work space, I feel the emptiness, but in Roger’s case, this space felt empty even when he was here.”

And sadly, Roger had little capacity for joy. Suffice it to say that we all breathed a sigh of relief when he left. Then, after having wasted all that time and money, we had to start the selection process all over again!

Take a moment to write down your hiring traps, then share them with the team and ask about their traps.

My hiring traps:

Now that you’ve built your list of key attributes, identified your hiring traps, and vowed not to be trapped by them, what’s next?

Identify three A+ candidates to interview. Not just two that look pretty good and one that looks okay. Three A+ candidates!

Even if you don’t have an HR department and you’re simply trying to fill a position in a small company, finding three A+ candidates should be your commitment. In fact, in a small company, it’s even more important.

Use your personal network, which probably includes online networks too numerous to name (some of which could be extinct by the time this is published). For a recent opening at Fierce, we had great luck with LinkedIn and CareerBuilder. And you can always use Monster, craigslist, Redmatch, HotJobs, Kforce, and other resources that will have emerged by the time this book is published. Ask your friends to keep an eye out for you. Use professional recruiters.


Now that you have waded through the stack of résumés and selected a handful of candidates who interest you, how will you select the three A+ candidates to invite to a face-to-face interview, candidates who not only have the particular brand of smarts your job opening requires, but also have emotional intelligence—and, most important, the capacity to connect with people at a deep level?

Conduct a phone screening interview. This isn’t a new idea, though I recommend a few twists to the usual rote phone screening so that you can determine whether someone is an A+ candidate. Part of the challenge is that there are plenty of websites that suggest the “best answers” candidates can give to the questions they will likely be asked.

For example, if a candidate is asked, “What was your biggest accomplishment in your current or last position, and alternatively, what did you fail to accomplish?” one website suggests, “If you didn’t fail at anything, say so.” I grant you that failed is a strong word, but surely we can all admit to falling short here and there. It would be well nigh impossible to connect with someone who has never failed. Besides, they’d make the rest of us imperfect birds look really bad!

And to the interview question, “Why were you fired?” (if you were), one prestigious blog suggests, “Get past the sticky issue of getting fired, so you can move on to your skills and why you’re qualified for the job.” Now, I ask you, what is honest about “getting past” the sticky issue of getting fired?

So what can you do during an initial phone interview to get someone to leave these stock answers at the curb and show up authentically?

Be personable. Go off script.

· Show up yourself! If you ask a bunch of canned questions like an automaton, in a voice expressing no emotion, why would you expect something different in response? Job candidates are probably a bit anxious, hoping to impress you, and most have prepared for the interview and practiced what they will say. Be personable. Go off script. Reveal something about yourself. Not your home phone number. Something you love about your job. Something you don’t love is just as important. A whiff of you being “real” will encourage the candidate to be the same. As Maya Angelou wrote, “When someone tells you who he is, believe him.” To that I add, “When someone declines to tell you who he is, exit as soon as possible.”

· Allow enough time. Reconcile yourself to the fact that this is not going to be a ten-minute interview. Unless you can tell right away that someone is not a candidate, this could take a while. How long depends on how many questions you ask and how important it is to you to get real, thorough answers, which often requires probing. I suggest honing your list of questions to the ones that will tell you what you really need to know.

· Don’t be satisfied with superficial answers. Dig for candor, full disclosure. If someone gives you a canned answer, a duck-and-dodge answer, a nonanswer, call him or her on it, in the nicest way possible: “That answer sounds a bit like one I read on an interview advice blog. Let me ask the question again, because I’d like to know what really happened, in your own words.”

Once you’ve conducted phone interviews and selected three candidates to interview in person, you’re ready for the radical, “fierce” approach to the face-to-face interview that will identify smart+heart candidates. Here goes.

Conduct a team interview. This isn’t the most radical part, but it is important. Why the team interview?

· It sends a powerful message about the importance of collaboration. Most candidates expect to be interviewed by one person. When a group turns up, it broadcasts the message that this position is important enough to take the precious time of all the people in the room and also signals a collaborative environment in which multiple, possibly competing views are sought on important decisions.

· It reveals who can really connect in challenging situations. It’s fairly easy to maintain eye contact with one person, but how does a candidate manage three to seven people? Start by having everyone briefly introduce themselves (name and job responsibilities), then notice whether the candidate picks one face and fixates on it no matter who asked the last question or makes eye contact with everyone from time to time. The person who makes eye contact with everyone is the person who’ll be able to connect with multiple clients, customers, and/or colleagues simultaneously.

· It makes authenticity tougher to fake. At Fierce, we work together as equals. Ideally, a candidate will respond—in tone of voice, personal warmth, facial expression, degree of enthusiasm—in the same way to everyone, regardless of rank, age, gender, or the presence or absence of accents, bling, or tattoos. When people with a wide variety of titles and job responsibilities gather for an interview, candidates who behave differently depending on whom they’re with or who’s asking the question are not the kind of people you want on your team.

· Each of us picks up on different things. I’m often surprised and impressed by the observations and insights of my colleagues following interviews. I might be enthusiastic and learn that someone else is hesitant. Or vice versa. As we talk about it, something emerges that deserves consideration. Something that would have been missed and could have led to a hiring mistake if it had not been brought to our collective attention: “I really liked him.” “I liked him too, but I noticed he directed all of his comments to you and rarely even glanced at anybody else, as if we weren’t even there. It makes me wonder if he is focused on hierarchy. And how would he conduct himself in client meetings where there are several people present?” Hmmmm.

· Who should be present? First and foremost, the person the candidate would report to. Given how busy everyone is, this rarely happens in large organizations, but this is a mistake. The candidate is making a decision, too, and part of the decision has to do with chemistry and personal connection, so if this person is going to report to you, take a seat at the table. Ask the questions you want to ask and allow the candidate to ask you questions. Besides, since telephone screening will have identified three A+ candidates, you can spare the time. I’d also invite at least two people whom the candidate would work with, at least one person who would be an internal “customer” of the candidate, and at least one person who would report directly to the candidate, assuming he or she would have direct reports. At Fierce, there are almost always six people present during an interview. Once we like someone, several of the team members take the candidate to lunch to get to know him or her more personally, but we always start with the larger gathering. It makes quite an impression.

Give the team members the list of the attributes you selected and the questions you designed together. Let them know that you want each of them to ask at least one question during the interview.

Conduct the smart+heart interview. Here’s how it could go:

Introduce yourselves. Welcome the candidate, and be warm and genuine, not bumps on a log. (I’ve sat in on meetings during which interviewers came across as stone idols, nary a smile or knitting of brows or anything to indicate that they were living, breathing human beings. What about this would attract an A+ candidate?) Have each person at the table give his or her name and responsibilities, including, “You would report to me,” or “I would report to you,” or “You and I would work together on …”

Begin with a general question. Ahead of time, appoint someone to ask the first question: “Tell us about yourself. What would you like us to know about who you are, where you’ve been, where you are now, where you’re headed?” I suggest that it not be the person the candidate will report to. This signals that you view one another as equals. Following the candidate’s response, anyone at the table is free to ask clarifying questions.

After all, if you’re drilling for water, you’re more likely to find it if you drill one hundred-foot well than one hundred one-foot wells.

Begin Mineral Rights. And look for the tells. Before you ask behavioral questions, spend fifteen to twenty minutes on “Mineral Rights,” a deep-dive conversation introduced in Fierce Conversations. We call it Mineral Rights because it goes deep on one topic. After all, if you’re drilling for water, you’re more likely to find it if you drill one hundred-foot well than one hundred one-foot wells.

In truth, Mineral Rights has many uses. It is used by coaches, mentors, salespeople—it even works wonders with teenagers. I think of Mineral Rights as my Swiss Army knife. It’s the conversational model I use most often at work and at home. At Fierce, we use Mineral Rights in meetings to ensure we’ve identified the real issue that needs addressing. We use it with new customers and during hiring interviews. Leaders use it with direct reports.

There are seven questions, and the rule is questions only. Each step in the Mineral Rights conversation breaks through the normal layers of reserve, inauthenticity, or resistance we often encounter in ourselves and others (for more details on the Mineral Rights conversation, refer to your copy of Fierce Conversations). You will follow some of the questions with probes inquiring about emotions, in hopes of getting head and heart responses.

Don’t rescue someone who falls silent or seems uncomfortable. The candidate should be doing 90 percent of the talking.

Question 1: Identify the issue. In coaching and sales conversations, the first Mineral Rights question is “Given everything on your plate, what is the most important thing we should be talking about today?” In an interview, replace this with “Given everything you’ve shared with us so far, what brought you to our doorstep today?” Give the candidate time to really answer this.

Question 2: Clarify the issue. Draw the candidate out, and don’t offer prompts or your own assumptions. The purpose here is to learn what’s really going on with this person. If the person is currently employed, why does he or she want to make a change? If the person isn’t employed, why not? What is it about your company and this job that appeals to him or her? What’s important to him or her going forward? Details are useful. Most important is clarity on why this person is sitting in front of you.

Question 3: Determine current impact. Probe for more information about the candidate’s current job or situation to find out what is prompting him or her to leave. Keep the emphasis on current: “What results is your current job/situation creating?” “Who else and what else is currently being affected?” and, just as important, “How is this affecting you?” And then ask the question that differentiates Mineral Rights from the usual interview: “Given this impact, what do you feel?”

Why ask this? If the candidate isn’t in touch with and/or is unwilling to reveal genuine emotion, you don’t have a smart+heart person here. But don’t be too quick to judge. People aren’t expecting to be asked this question.

Question 4: Determine future implications. Ask, “If nothing changes in your current position, what are the implications?” And again, draw the candidate out. It’s okay to provide a little help with something like, “If we were talking six months or a year from now and nothing had changed, what might you be telling us?”

Then ask, “When you consider those possible outcomes, what do you feel?”

Question 5: Examine personal contributions to the issue. Ask, “Before we move on, how would you describe your own contribution to the conditions and outcomes at your current position with which you’re unhappy? In other words, where is your DNA regarding these results (and whatever emotions the candidate has named)?” This is an opportunity to discover the level of personal accountability the candidate accepts for whatever is not working, not going well at his or her current job. Or to learn that you have an entrenched “victim” on your hands who blames others for failures, disappointments.

If the candidate says, “I don’t know” ask, “What would it be if you did know?” Ask this lightly, smiling. This isn’t a criminal trial, merely an opportunity for the candidate to fess up to whatever he or she brought to the party. You could prompt with “If you could go back and change something you did, didn’t do, said, didn’t say, what comes to mind?”

A huge tell is a candidate’s inability or unwillingness to recognize and disclose his or her own role in whatever situation displeases him or her. There are a few situations in which a person is truly innocent, but those are extremely rare.

Question 6: Describe the ideal outcome. Say, “Let’s imagine you have taken exactly the right job in exactly the right industry and exactly the right environment for you. Tell us about that job and what difference that would make for you.”

You’ll discover whether candidates really want the position at your company or just any job. Draw them out: “Say more.”

Then ask, “When you consider that possible scenario, what do you feel?”

I love when this question sparks excitement, anticipation, light in someone’s face. If you don’t see it, probe: “Hmm. I don’t get the feeling that you’re clear about what’s important to you going forward.” And see what the person says. Or “I don’t get the impression that you have a vision for the next phase of your career that is particularly compelling.” And listen.

Question 7. Commit to action. Ask, “Given everything you’ve shared with us, what steps have you taken and what steps do you plan to take to find the right position for yourself, in the right company?” and “What’s your time frame?” Note: You haven’t yet asked whether the candidate thinks he or she would be happy in your organization, because none of his or her questions about the job or the company have been answered yet. You’ll get to that shortly.

Ask behavioral questions. Now it’s time to ask the behavioral questions you designed to make sure the candidate has actually displayed the attributes important to you. These might include the following:

Tell us about a time when a colleague gave you advice.

Think back to a time when you were under pressure to get more done than seemed possible, and tell us how you handled that.

Tell us about the toughest conversation you ever had at work. Who initiated it? Topic? Outcome?

What turns you off? Tell us a story. …

Tell us about a time when you failed.

Tell us about a relationship with a colleague or a customer that was important to you.

Ask a question they aren’t expecting. Once you’re clear that a candidate has the chops to do the job you’re filling, and once he or she has answered questions that reveal he or she has the attributes you’re looking for, ask one or two questions that are out of the blue. Perhaps “What grounds you?” or “What turns you off?” If a candidate asks, “What do you mean?” don’t explain the question. Just say, “No wrong answer here. What comes to mind?” A favorite question of mine is “There’s a British sitcom called The Last of the Summer Wine, about a group of retired friends living in Yorkshire. One of them confesses that, although he sold linoleum all his life, whenever he had to fill out a form and got to the line that said ‘occupation,’ he had a hard time writing ‘lino salesman.’ What he really wanted to write was ‘minister of agriculture.’ If you could write anything above the word occupation, what would you write?”

If you could write anything above the word occupation, what would you write?

At Fierce, I hope candidates will say “wildlife photographer” or “Duchess of York” or “tree-house builder” or “symphony conductor” or “personal assistant to the Dalai Lama” or “expert on the migratory habits of the brown-headed cowbird.” My interest flags if I hear, “Oh, I just want my work to contribute to the organization’s mission.”

Ask, “What was the last good book you read?” or any other questions you’d like to ask, even if completely unrelated to the job description (assuming the questions are legally and ethically appropriate).

Now it’s the candidate’s turn. Ask, “What questions do you have of us?” This is where the candidate will ask you to tell him or her more about the job, details, expectations, what you’re looking for in a candidate, and more about your company or department or team.

Why not explain all this at the beginning? Because, as I mentioned earlier, you would have broadcast the “right” answers, handed a savvy interviewee the script. Don’t talk about the job and what you’re looking for until you’ve gotten all your questions answered. If the candidate asks you for information about the job or company earlier (and most will), just say, “We promise to cover that while you’re here, and before we do, we’d like to learn about you.”

But at this point, don’t hold back anything. Tell them the vision, mission, values, expectations, challenges, rewards. Let your own passion, your emotions, show. Remember, the candidate is making a decision, too, and it’s just as important for him or her to feel a connection with you as it is for you to make one with him or her.

Have a secret signal. At Fierce, we have a signal when we conduct team interviews. If at any point in the interview, one of us feels strongly that this person is not right for us or for this position, we put our pen on the table. When we notice someone’s pen on the table, if we concur, we signal agreement by putting our pen on the table, as well. (We’ll have to come up with a new signal when this book comes out; otherwise, job candidates will freak out if anyone puts a pen on the table!) We try to be subtle—we don’t all slam our pens on the table simultaneously!

If the majority do this (in our case, four out of six people), someone, usually Halley, our President and COO, ends the interview respectfully, warmly, candidly, with no argument, though we will discuss it later. For example, Halley might say, “Thank you for everything you’ve shared with us to this point. You’ve been open (if the person has), and given what’s important to you, I feel that this isn’t the right job (or company) for you.” (Give a specific example, but keep it brief; for example, “You prefer to work in the background in a support role, and this job would require that you be front and center, talking with clients regularly” or “Your career goals, which I applaud, are unlikely to be fulfilled at Fierce. So rather than take more of your time, let’s stop here. Thank you very much for meeting with us. I sincerely hope you find exactly the right job for yourself.”)

Stand up, extend a handshake, and say good-bye. If the person argues (some will try to persuade you that you’re wrong, that they should have or could have told you more, et cetera), counter with, “Please don’t be disappointed. While Fierce isn’t right for you, I have no doubt you’ll be the right addition for a great company.” And walk to the door.

Why would you do this? One of the principles of Fierce Conversations is “obey your instincts.” Don’t just trust them, obey them! So we do. On the few occasions when we’ve talked ourselves out of obeying our instincts, we ended up paying the price.

And, of course, if the majority don’t put pens on the table, we continue the interview. The pen setter will have a chance to air his or her opinions and concerns after the interview is over. Which brings me to …


Allow at least fifteen minutes after an interview to debrief. Yes, I know everyone is pressed for time, but there isn’t a more important contribution you can make to the company—well, besides closing a multimillion-dollar deal—than selecting smart+heart people to join your organization, so it’s worth those few extra minutes. Plus, if you have several interviews in a row, you will need time between them to refresh yourself. Use this time to debrief two things:

1. What is our impression of the candidate? Right for us? Concerns? How does this person stack up compared to other candidates we’ve interviewed? Next steps? Make sure you hear from everyone present. Following a recent interview, someone commented, “I can’t quite put my finger on his problem, but I’ll bet it’s hard to pronounce.” That is a tell if I ever heard one.

2. How’d we do? Were we happy with our own participation in the interview, with the flow, with the probing? Is there something we want to do differently in the next interview? If so, what is it and how will we manage this? Acknowledge individuals for things they asked or said that were particularly helpful. What did we do well? Vow to do that again!

Clear your heads as best you can in preparation for the next interview.


Rinse and repeat, as many times as necessary, until you find the perfect person—with the smarts and heart—for the position.

Taking It to the Organization

Share your thoughts about hiring smart+heart people with others in your organization, particularly the data on the importance of the capacity to connect with colleagues and customers at a deep level.

Suggest they read this chapter. Ask for their thoughts. Tell them you’d like to change the practice of hiring smart people to hiring smart+heart people. When it’s time to add someone to the team, follow the plan outlined earlier.

If you are a senior executive, participate in the next interview series. If you have the ear of senior executives, ask for time with them and build your case. Make a clear recommendation, a clear request. Help in any way that you can. Offer to coach the interview team and to be a member of it. I cannot tell you how many times one person has advocated passionately for something he or she believed in and ended up shifting tectonic plates.

Provide training to current employees. Luxottica Group is the world leader in the design, manufacture, marketing, and distribution of mid- and premium-priced prescription frames and sunglasses. Following Fierce training, the company enjoyed the best year in its history. While part of Luxottica’s success is attributed to acquisitions, there’s this, from a senior executive: “The biggest win for this year was how we all came together as one company, the strength of collaboration and connection. The sum total of millions of magical moments.”

Personal Action Plan

Like all fierce practices, hiring smart+heart people begins with you. It’s tough to hire people who can connect with others if you aren’t connecting with others yourself. So now that you know the importance of gauging other people’s emotional quotient, how about gauging your own?

Hiring smart+heart people begins with you.

Begin by having a fierce conversation with yourself.

How much emotional capital do I have? To what degree am I connected with the people who are central to my success and happiness? Would others describe me as “smart+heart”?

What words come up for you when you think about your relationships with family members, colleagues, customers?

Write the names of people who would say (and mean it), “I am extremely happy in your company.”

Do you desire a deeper connection? If your answer is yes, what do you need to do? Make a list of your goals for the next thirty or ninety days. Be specific about the outcomes you want and the actions you’ll take. Add names and topics to the “Conversations I Need to Have” list at the end of this book.


Connectivity has revealed itself as my life’s theme, my personal challenge, the way through for me, which is sometimes difficult, since I am a card-carrying introvert who thrives on solitude. I came to it early.

As a child, I spent almost every summer weekend at my grandparents’ home on Lake Chickamauga in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My grandparents were loving, funny, playful, intelligent businesspeople who built a one-room getaway cabin that evolved over time into the large, comfortable home to which they eventually moved full time.

It was a kid’s paradise. My brother, Sam, and my cousins, Gil and Baxter, spent every spare moment there. There was a long pier from which we fished and dived. There were canoes, a tree house, chairs that tolerated wet bathing suits, hammocks to lie in while gazing into loblolly pines, listening to the drone of cicadas and motorboats. There were Indian arrowheads to unearth on nearby islands, forts to build, canasta games to win or lose (the loser served vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce), ghost stories to be retold again and again, lightning bugs to catch, screech owls hooting us to sleep.

When I was ten, one warm, humid day, after hours in the woods, I climbed a tree that was home to a muscadine vine. Muscadines are like Concord grapes in that the outer skin slips off, leaving a juicy pearl to savor. After lounging in the branches of the tree, eating my fill of muscadines, I climbed down and sat on the ground, leaning my back against the tree, with my legs stretched out and my palms on the ground. I closed my eyes, dozing in the late afternoon sunlight, not a serious thought or a thought of any kind for miles around. Ten-year-olds can be marvelously serene.

Then something strange happened. My palms and legs seemed to sprout tiny tendrils, which began working themselves into the soil beneath my legs. It felt as though my back began to meld with the tree trunk. I was frightened at first, because I literally couldn’t move. It was as if my body were fastening itself to the ground and the tree. Then came a growing sensation that I was okay, that in fact, what was happening wasn’t strange or dangerous. I began to feel that the tendrils that bound me to the tree bound me to the world. That I was not only connected to the earth and the tree and the breeze and the grapes and the sun and the birds, but also to the people I knew and loved and even to those I didn’t know. My ten-year-old self couldn’t articulate then what I am writing now, recalling this experience like it was yesterday. The world and everything in it was resident within my own veins. I could taste the world on my tongue, sniff it on my skin. I felt deep love for all of it. What a childhood gift—awareness of my own smallness and insignificance, balanced by the awareness that I was part of something uncomprehendingly vast and beautiful. Connected to it, literally.

And then I forgot that experience, got caught up in school, friends, home, boys, the thrills and chills of adolescence. As an adult, the memory returned when I learned that according to quantum physics, an individual’s mere presence in a room affects the physical properties of that room and, ultimately, the outcome of scientific experiments. In Steve Toltz’s book, A Fraction of the Whole, the central character, Jasper, says, “People always say, ‘It’s good to be a part of something bigger than yourself,’ but you already are. You’re part of a huge thing. The whole of humanity. That’s enormous. But you couldn’t see it, so you pick, what? An organization? A culture? A religion? That’s not bigger than you. It’s much, much smaller.”

Looking back, I recognize that “connection—at a deep level” has been the underlying theme of my work and my life. Every human on our planet, except those with severe disorders, desires to connect with others—whether it’s their boss, their colleagues, their friends, their family members. And to do that, they must ask, “Who are you really?” Until we know one another, there will be no connecting. So until then, lower your arms. Step away from our hearts. Step away from our companies and our customers.

If you are still resisting the idea that human connectivity is essential to your success and happiness, consider a fortune-cookie aphorism I came across in Apathy and Other Small Victories, by Paul Neilan: “The world is your oyster, but you are allergic to shellfish.”

The pleasure of connecting with others at a deep level is a total sensory experience, even better than a dozen oysters. But if, after reading this chapter, you think it’s only about feeling good, then, well, I haven’t done my job. Because the fact is that when we connect at work, we are not only happier, we are more effective, more productive, more profitable. Richer, in every sense of the word. And if you recognize that something within you must shift before you can get there, well, feel free to borrow my mantra for this past year: “Open my heart.” Say it in the morning. Think it in the meeting when you feel yourself tuning out or irritated or judging someone. Remember it when you’re talking with a customer who is demanding or someone who seems to be wearing a suit of armor encased in concrete.

“The world is your oyster, but you are allergic to shellfish.”—Paul Neilan

It’s easy to think it’s about them, about him or her, but it’s about you. And me. Connecting. Right now, in this conversation. Not that one. This one.