Competence is not the only key to building a strong team

You find a candidate for your job opening who has exceptional technical skills and extensive experience. Do you shout for joy and hire that person before someone else does? Or is there more to it?

Oftentimes, organizations will hire for competence and fire for character.

If you’re hiring someone who will be in a leadership role, the decision is even more critical. Prevailing ideas pointed to sound business acumen as the key to a leader’s success. However, research conducted by Fred Kiel shows that leaders with strong character achieved up to five times the return on assets for their organizations than leaders with weak character.

Plant the right seeds by hiring for character

Prospective employees tend to have their guard up, revealing only their best during an interview. How do you dig below the surface and get an idea of their character?

Ask questions that expose character in what they say and how they say it.

Here are some example questions:

  • “If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?”
  • “Tell me about something you’ve accomplished that you are very proud of.” (They earn extra points if they give credit to others who may have helped in the accomplishment.)
  • “Describe a time when things didn’t go the way you hoped.” (Watch for whether they blame others.)
  • “What are some of the best moments in your previous job?”
  • “What is a misconception people have about you?”
  • Meet with the candidate over lunch or dinner. There is something about eating together that relaxes people and invites casual conversation so you can learn more about the person. Also, observe how the candidate treats the waiter.
  • Have others within your organization interview the candidate. A variety of perspectives can be helpful in uncovering issues. Sometimes, the candidate will be more comfortable — and more revealing — with others on your team.

Cultivate character and eliminate the weeds

Fortunately, character can be cultivated. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to do if those with the issues are not receptive — and those with the biggest character deficiencies tend to be in denial.

To cultivate the character for those employees who are receptive, here are some steps:

  • Recognize and reward good character. Catch people in the act of demonstrating good character and identify their actions as ones worth emulating.
  • Add character measurements to your competency metrics for employee feedback and evaluations.
  • Take a stand and remove toxic employees. Robert Quinn, in his book “Deep Change,” introduced the concept of “the tyranny of competence,” where a person is so good at the skills required of their job that leaders overlook their character flaws. A leader’s willingness to overlook flaws in character can be highly destructive to the team and to productivity.

Referring to integrity, which is a key element of character, Warren Buffet summed up the importance of this quality very well: “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

If you would like more information on building character, please send me an email at

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