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  • Writer's pictureDan Squires

What To Do When What Got You Here May Not Get You There - Focus on Difficult Managers

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Dr. Dan
Dr. Dan's Weekly Wag

I get to know folks pretty quickly, and it turns out that Roy Rogers was right—most people are pretty likable, even if they have a few unique “qualities” sprinkled in for good measure. In fact, when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, success often favors the “bold”—a term which reminds me of when my pediatrician (and later the school psychologist) encouraged my parents to think of me as “spirited” instead of something less, shall we say, refined. 

Unfortunately, however, some of the very characteristics that might pave the way for individual successes like being bold, or even “spirited”, don’t often translate to the finesse demands of managing others well. Indeed, one of the most common qualities that up and coming, high potential executives struggle with is transitioning from a Ferrari to minivan mentality.

This leads to an interesting crossroads that requires a little finesse of its own—how to gently inform current and future clients (you know, the lifeblood of OUR business) that they often have more “spirited” profiles than the executives we find for them to hire? Well, I suppose one way to broach the topic would be through the only door that nearly all captains of industry seem to pay attention to when the doorbell rings—data. 

As part of our search methodology we conduct a rigorous personality assessment of both hiring managers and all high potential executive candidates for a range of Board, C-suite, and VP-level positions. In addition to a separate, rigorous focus on professional background and competencies, our assessment also consists of both in-depth psychometric and culture testing and interactive evaluation with a clinical psychologist (yours truly—and yes, I know, ironic). 

I took a look at 14 searches where I conducted all of the personality assessments for both hiring managers and executive candidates over the past year. I compared 24 (anonymous) profiles on the following 4 key variables of interest:

  1. Number of defining (i.e., pronounced vs. flexible) core personality characteristics, overall

  2. Number of defining core personality characteristics on the “low” (i.e., generally less favorable) side (e.g., low agreeable, low conscientious, etc.)

  3. Number of high risk “derailing” (i.e., counterproductive) behaviors above the 80th percentile (e.g., perfectionistic, over-reactive, etc.)

  4. Number of “driving” (i.e., motivating) values

Here’s what I found…

  • There were no big differences between hiring managers and hired executives on either the number of defining core personality characteristics, overall (managers averaged 4.4 out of 7 and hired executives averaged 4.6) or the number of driving values (managers averaged 4.7 out of 10 and hired executives averaged 3.1). Takeaway—both managers and hired executives had similar, slightly more defined (than flexible) core personalities and comparable levels of motivation. No big whoop.

  • There were, however, more pronounced differences when it came to the number of defining core personality characteristics on the “low” (often less favorable) side (managers averaged 2.9 out of 7 and hired executives averaged 1.1—nearly 3 times lower), AND managers also had a higher number of high-risk “derailing” behaviors above the 80th percentile (managers averaged 4 out of 11 and hired executives averaged 1.4—again, nearly 3 times lower). Takeaway—compared to hired executives, managers are, indeed, a little difficult, err spirited; they have 3 times the number of both “low” side personality characteristics and 3 times the number of behavioral derailing characteristics, on average.

There’s a lot to think about here—not the least of which is challenging the conventional wisdom that the onus is on newly hired executives alone to onboard, integrate, and perform at high levels. In fact, managers not only share in that responsibility, but should also play a vital role in facilitating the process. 

This brings up an important limitation with the popular conception and practice of executive search (or “headhunting”)—a one-dimensional process of “fetch” that ends when a new executive is sourced and hired. Unfortunately, at best, that represents no more than half to two-thirds of the successful hiring continuum. The remaining runway requires a more multi-dimensional process that helps to also prepare the “soil” and “climate” to facilitate rapid germination and growth.

We employ a bold, spirited, and diligent post placement support process that provides a range of both targeted diagnostics and therapeutics at the micro (i.e., 1:1 psychometric, interpersonal/”soil”) and macro (i.e., 1:many, culture/”climate”) levels to help race car driving managers and newly hired executives corner without flipping the minivan. 

We’ve developed a suite of user-friendly tools to help facilitate that success like concrete, scorecard-based 12month competency metrics, readily interpretable side-by-side profile comparisons (“scouting reports”) focused at both the individual and cultural levels, post placement, web-based flash 360 integration metrics that measure onboarding and early integration progress, and even targeting coaching support when and where necessary to keep things on track.   

While I’m not an executive myself, I certainly understand what it means to have a “spirited” profile. So, I was fully prepared for the inevitable conversations with my children’s pediatrician. While, perhaps, one day I’ll also get to enjoy my mother’s subsequent delight, there is one thing I’m sure of—whoever said, “It takes a village to raise an executive” was right.


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