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Executive Hiring Mistakes

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

In today’s job market, the focus on specific industry and domain experience has become prevalent when hiring executives. Many companies believe that a large pool of candidates with detailed experience will yield the best results. However, this approach often overlooks the overall quality and abilities of the candidates. A high-quality executive with broad experience, attitude, intelligence, and work ethic is far more valuable than a candidate with specific domain expertise. Industry knowledge can be learned, but a lower quality executive may never become high-quality, regardless of their domain experience.

The importance of specific domain expertise diminishes as one climbs the corporate ladder. At higher levels, creativity, management skills, and overall experience become more crucial. CEOs, in particular, need to possess generic leadership qualities, while other managers can bring in domain expertise. Emphasizing specific industry experience in executive hiring might lead to overlooking exceptional candidates from diverse backgrounds.

“Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about taking care of those in your charge.” – Simon Sinek

Executive recruiters are also susceptible to this phenomenon. Clients’ demands for very specific but less important skills can narrow the candidate pool unnecessarily. Great turnarounds in companies have often been executed by executives from completely different industries who bring fresh ideas and a new perspective. Hiring executives with diverse backgrounds fosters innovation and change, as they are more likely to ask crucial questions and challenge the status quo.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Peter Drucker

Introducing new blood regularly is vital to avoid mediocrity. A diverse mix of professionals from various industries brings in fresh perspectives and ideas. Filtering candidates based on overly granular requirements, such as specific skills or degrees, may lead to the exclusion of exceptional candidates with broader leadership abilities.

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“To succeed in business, you need to be original, but you also need to understand what people want.” – Howard Schultz

Rather than focusing on very specific criteria, executive hiring should prioritize the most important factors, such as behavior, adaptability, work ethic, and self-motivation. Behavior, although challenging to assess in an interview process, plays a crucial role in determining long-term employee performance and results.

In conclusion, the most common executive hiring mistake made today is overly emphasizing specific industry and domain experience. A high-quality executive with broad abilities and adaptability is far more valuable in the long run. Hiring diverse candidates from different backgrounds fosters innovation and fresh ideas. The focus should be on behavior, work ethic, and leadership qualities that ensure exceptional long-term employee performance. To avoid this mistake, companies should seek executives with the right attitude and potential for growth, regardless of their specific industry expertise.

Bob Norton is a long-time Serial Entrepreneur, CEO and investor who founded six companies with four exits that returned over $1 billion to investors for a 25X ROI. Two others are still in development. He has trained, consulted and advised thousands of Entrepreneurs, CEOs and boards since 2002. Mr. Norton works with companies to 2X to 10X growth rates and valuation using AirTight Management™, the world’s most comprehensive Leadership Operating System. He also helps companies raise capital to fund growth. He is also the Founder of The CEO Boot Camp™ and Entrepreneurship Universityfor early-stage companies that have not reached product-market fit and $1M ARR.

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