Tuesday, April 27, 2010


”Take every opportunity to lead, every opportunity to positively influence others.”

I found myself enjoying one of the best-run government agencies last week when this thought on leadership hit me. You know, the place with stark white walls lit beautifully by flickering overhead fluorescents, row after row of folks slouching in the uncomfortable plastic chairs – each staring blankly at a different spot on the speckled tile floor. Where, when your number is finally called, you slowly saunter to the counter carrying a few documents in one hand and an all but defeated spirit in the other.

I felt this very same spirit of defeat creeping in while sitting in the BMV last week watching the numbers tick by every so slowly, waiting for my turn to approach the counter for slaughter.

So much time wasted. So much human creativity unrealized. So much of each and every person left untouched, left wanting.

Then I realized, the BMV is a microcosm for so much of humanity; sitting, waiting, waiting for someone else to do something, waiting for their turn, waiting to be told they need more information, more documentation. Each allowing his/her spirit to be slowly eroded.

As I waited, I realized, I too felt my spirit cringing, curling up, withering a little.
Then it hit me. It wasn’t an epiphany; nor a revelation, nothing monumental — just a simple action. Something that would say, “I won’t let this hour of my life be utterly wasted. I’m going to inspire these folks!”

My number B176 flashed in red on the board. With this idea for action fresh in mind, the energy of it welling up inside me, I jumped up and yelled “BINGO!” like I had won the Bingo World Championship !

My only hope is for this small act to have inspired others to do something similar. To be themselves.

And one day I hope to be sitting at the BMV when a slew of folks transform the stale environment by shouting BINGO! or Yahtzee! when their number flashes on the screen.

”Take every opportunity to lead, every opportunity to positively influence others.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interviews and the Art of Story -- Part III "The Crux of the Interview"

Read Part I
Read Part II

The Crux
As I continued my chat with Edward, I realized I had a bit to learn too. While coaching him to interview, I found I was coaching myself to better conduct interviews…

I needed to take Edward back to the place in his story where his eyes lit up, where his passion stirred, where his passion flickered – because I had missed it. I had missed his unique art.

“Your challenge, Edward, is to find the moment you made a decision, took an action, or otherwise changed the direction of the story. Then, identify the unique perspective, approach, or risk you took. Focus 80% of your story here, explaining how and why your uniqueness led you to your conclusion. THAT is your art. That is what you need to tell the interviewer. That is what makes you special. And that seemingly small part is the only part that really matters. THAT is exactly the art every organization needs.”

The challenge as an interviewer is to realize that the greatness of a candidate, his art, is often hidden by the nature of his story. The crux of his story is exactly the part that we tend to gloss over in an interview, because that is the place your candidate neglects to expound.

He tells us the situation, the action, and the result, (thank you Kelley Business School for S.A.R.) but fails to describe why he took the action at hand. He wrongfully assumes any other person would have taken the same action, and thus neglects to realize his own unique talent because he has been conditioned otherwise, see White Collar: The American Middle Classes (or he’s trying to hide his lack of art altogether). Will you recognize it?

Each and every time you simply move on to the next question without asking the “Why?” and discovering the unique perspective of the passionate artist, you neglect the very art of this person – the very art your company desperately needs.

THAT unique perspective is what your organization needs. What you need. THAT is what transforms your entire business unit, influences your whole company – encourages growth, creativity, passion, and art.

Stop looking to fill open positions with the “right” fit, and instead seek out the unique art of a person that will transform your company. Discover the true art of your candidate by awakening his passion through question and uncover his unique perspective through the crux.

That is your art, and it all starts with identifying and exploiting the ever-elusive crux of the interview.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Interviews and the Art of Story -- Part II "The Difference"

Read Part I

The Story
Last week a member of my team approached me and asked if I would mock-interview him for an internal position for which he had applied. The part of me most passionate about developing people responded immediately, "Sure!"

During the short jaunt across the street to the Border’s CafĂ©, it struck me – a mock-interview was not at all what Edward needed to be prepared. He needed tools. Tools to think about the very unique art only he has to share with the world, and tools to bring this art of his to market in an interview.

As we walked across the street and up the stairs, through aisles of books, past the Twilight series, my mind was racing through the myriad of interviews I had conducted over the last 6 years, searching for those moments that truly intrigued me as an interviewer. Those crux moments separate a good candidate from a great candidate.

The Turning Point
We approached two leather club chairs and took a seat. I sat down across from Edward and said to him, “I’m not going to mock-interview you today.”

Clearly perplexed, he asked, “Why? Do you think I’m not ready for this position?”

“No,” I said, “it doesn’t matter whether you’re ready or not, a mock-interview is not what you need to be prepared for this interview, for any interview. You need stories.”

“Stories?” Edward asked, now even more confused.

I continued, “Rather than preparing for what the interviewer may ask, prepare to share the masterpiece of who you are through stories. Pick those things you are proud of, tell a story about something you care about, some outcome that you played the critical part in transforming. These stories will resonate with the interviewer because your account of the experience will evoke emotions in you as you walk them through the story. These emotions allow you to be more present in the interview and will more genuinely reflect who you are.”

The stories of a candidate reveal who they truly are – their character, decision-making, and their passion, their art. The stories they tell in an interview, and the stories they tell through social media (Travis Robertson shares the importance of a candidate's social media story here). What we’re looking for are the stories that make a difference.

The Difference
I went on with Edward, “What we need to do today is work on your story-telling. So, tell me a story about something you are proud of, something that speaks to who you are, a situation in which being Edward made all the difference.”

Edward told me a brilliant story about how he recognized a huge gap in the operations of a staffing firm and took a very different approach than the rest of his peers. This led to drastically higher conversion, retention, and success (for Edward, and the company). Brilliant! Edward had come alive in a way I had never seen before! His story was engaging and animated, full of emotion and passion. We had made some progress.

It was the perfect story. Perfect to reveal his mastery of several key-competencies. Perfect on so many levels, except for one thing, the big thing – he completely neglected the crux of the story – the part that explained how his art was different from everyone else. How he had reached his conclusion, and why he acted the way he did.

Had I truly been interviewing Edward, I would have been tempted to move on to the next question. He had spoken to several competencies and with the often-missing passion. But the looming question in my head from Edward’s story was, “What gave him the unique perspective on the operations of his company that every one of his peers had missed for years? And why did he do something about it?” So, instead I circled back and said, “let’s review and critique your story. It was a good story, but you skipped the best part! The crux.”

Find out the crux of Edward’s story and the most important part of every interview answer later this week in Interviews and the Art of Story -- Part III.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Save your interviews from the Death of Story

From years of interviewing candidates for Fortune 100 companies and Most Admired companies, I have learned that the majority of the available workforce has no idea how to talk about themselves. In fact, no idea how to be themselves!

If you're in a management position and have any hiring responsibilities I am sure you have asked yourself the following questions once or twice, "Wait, what was her answer to that question? When did I stop listening?"

Most likely the reason for your wandering mind is not that you indulged too heavily during happy hour the night before, or that you were distracted by the looming quarterly report deadline. Rather, it is the content (or lack-thereof) and delivery on behalf of the candidate. But you encourage it!

All too often the candidate arrives with a resume in-hand (one they hope will speak for them), and will wait for you to ask them questions. That is how nearly every “career counselor” or college career center has coached the newest class to the workforce. It is no wonder so many interviews are incredibly boring. The uniqueness of these individuals has been surrendered to the “right” approach to interviews. And I suspect a part of you thinks “this is just the way it is.”

I say, hogwash!

Yes, you will have to ask questions. And yes, your candidate will need to provide answers. Furthermore, it is the onus of the candidate to keep your attention, to show you the art they will bring to your organization and that unique human element that will make your business unit better.(Thanks to Seth Godin’s work “Linchpin,” for providing the term “art” to describe one’s work)

For me, the interview is not about questions. It is about story.

I want to be engaged with the story of a candidate who has impacted people, customers, peers, superiors, and I want it to evoke some passion and emotion in me. That is how I know a candidate has the “stuff” that will move my company forward. It doesn’t have to be a heart-wrenching tale of how she saved a failing product, it can simply be about a single interaction with a customer who had a question about the power button – but how that customer’s question led to a human connection. When a candidate can tell this story in response to a question – I say, “brilliant!” One step closer to a good fit.

I suspect there are plenty of people who can “do the job” you need done. You’ve settled for them before, and you’re at risk of settling for them again. The pressures of the daily tasks slowly eat away at your willingness to hold out for the best addition to your team. Instead, you are daily more convinced that you just need a candidate to fill the empty shoes, to complete the overdue tasks. If you settle for this, you are settling for a path that will only make you less able to share your art, passion, and uniqueness with others.

And the more you allow this to happen, the more you entrench not only yourself, but your entire business unit, your whole company in practices that stunt growth, limit creativity, and slowly kill the art you try so hard to share with the world. It all starts with YOU. You are the gatekeeper of story, your own story, as well as that of your organization.

All too often we accept the lack of story from candidates we interview. We gloss over it in our haste to fill a position. And every time we do, we contribute to the continuation of our boring vanilla interviews.

Answer for yourself this question:

How did you respond the last time a friend, peer, or direct report asked, “will you help me prepare for an interview?” (Can you even remember the last time you were asked that question?)

Did you blow them off? Did you ask them meaningless “interview questions” that fit the mold we have grown to expect? Or did you engage them in a different way, engaging them to tell a story?

Last week I nearly fell prey to the very same temptation -- to maintain the status quo. Contribute to the death of story. The decline of my own and another's art.

Look here next week for the tale of my fight against the death of story and my battle to keep interviews engaging, interesting, and a more accurate judge of character…