Too often boards forsake a systematic, data-driven approach when they make decisions about investing in the company’s single most valuable asset—its chief executive. The CEO will be the determinant of future success, but too frequently boards fail to start the CEO hiring process with the future in mind. Instead, they interview and hire a CEO for the business they currently have—not the one they aspire to have.

Helping a company find the right CEO is the most daunting and high-stakes initiative board directors, senior HR professionals, and business owners undertake. Adding to the intimidation, most people never engage in more than one CEO selection process, so they never have the benefits of a “lessons learned” kind of review until it’s too late. There’s a better way—a way to have a systematic, organized approach to hiring and interviewing. It all starts with a global perspective.

Before they begin the hiring process, decision makers will want to agree on the strategic direction of the company, clarify the role of the board in the process, determine the responsibilities of the search committee, and specify the key challenges and opportunities the new CEO will face.

In addition to identifying strategic imperatives, they will want to determine what the company must do well in order to succeed in the future. That will set the stage for determining what the new CEO will need to carry out. Specifically, decision makers will want to assess critical success factors: decision-making and problem-solving, industry knowledge, results orientation, financial acumen, learning speed, tech savvy, and leadership style of the candidates. The interview is the most flawed but most necessary way to evaluate all of these.

3 things explain the flawed nature of interviews:

1. They are subjective. (We tend to like people who are like us.)

2. They measure how well someone interviews, not how well that person would do the CEO’s job.

3. They can’t accurately evaluate some of the critical success factors like aptitude and leadership style.

However flawed interviews may be, we can’t make the right decision without them, but we can certainly improve them because preparing for CEO interviews is just as important as the actual interview. To start, make sure you have a question for each of the success factors. Next, to ensure both fairness and effectiveness in the hiring process, create a universal list of questions. Each person on the interview team doesn’t need to ask every question, but in going through the process, each candidate should answer each question. Only through the interview can decision makers evaluate behavior, interpersonal skills, and executive presence—and ultimately arrive at a decision that leads to hiring the best person to navigate the future of the company.

Lessons by Linda Henman:

ExecSense Speaker


Linda Henman
President, Henman Performance Group

Expertise: Executive Development & Coaching

Linda Henman, Ph.D. has helped executives in Fortune 500 companies, privately held firms, small businesses, and military organizations to define their direction and select the best people to put their strategies in motion.

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Linda holds a Ph.D. in organizational systems, two Master of Arts degrees in interpersonal communications and organization development, and a Bachelor of Science degree in communications. A former university professor, Linda served on the adjunct graduate faculty at Washington University and wrote the textbook for the school’s Leadership in Technology program. She belongs to the Air Force Association and the Million Dollar Consultants’ Hall of Fame, and she holds numerous certifications, including Director of Professionalism, a designation given by the National Association of Corporate Directors.

Senior leaders in construction, retail, financial services, food, healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, and technology industries rely on her to help make essential decisions. Some of her major clients include Tyson Foods, Emerson Electric, Kraft Foods, Boeing Aircraft, Estee Lauder, and Merrill Lynch.

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