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There is a great advantage for an executive recruiter to have once worked as a crime writer and investigative reporter.

You are not afraid to ask tough questions, and you can more easily detect the self-serving spin.

In the business of poker, seasoned card players will tell you that every player has a “tell”-that look-a certain facial expression, a nervous habit of playing with a ring, drumming fingers, or how he or she plays with their poker chips. If you can interpret the “tells” you will know when a player is bluffing or when they are holding a hand that is loaded for bear.

In recruiting, candidates also have tells. They are not that hard to pick up. Most executive candidates will slip because they are not prepared for the questions. Sometimes it is not a big issue, you ignore it and move on, unless you establish a pattern of behavior in other answers, or through subsequent research-secondary references and background investigations.

In recruiting, there are answers or comments that candidates make that are deal killers.

I was recently interviewing an executive for the number two role at a major hospital system. He said two things that tripped him up.

When asked to describe a big mistake and lessons learned, he denied that he had ever made any consequential mistakes in his 12 years as a senior operations executive.

I found that hard to believe.

Later in the interview, I asked him to describe his two biggest successes.

I was “I’d” to death-“I turned this or that around and I overhauled systems and processes that led to record profits.” No mention of, or credit for, the support of his management team or the dozens of employees who did the work.

He sensed I was shocked at his answer, and his sudden burst of humility, trying to figure out his mistake, left him, to quote an ESPN sports anchor, “mumbling, fumbling and stumbling” out of further consideration.

It would be like Henry Ford saying he was going to personally build all the cars Ford Motor Company would make in a year. He might build three or four, said Dr. Lawrence Weed in his 1971 Grand Rounds lecture on the importance of medical records, but that would leave another 200,000 or so people without a car, and that is the stuff customer revolts are made of.

A CEO who says something like “I turned that hospital around” and does not share the credit is, plain and simple, a fraud. No one man or woman can turn around a business unless it is a one-person company. Great accomplishments are a team effort. Always.

Improving quality of care, enhancing patient safety and driving innovation that will produce real reductions in the cost of care, can only be accomplished with the support of the team.

Be honest. Embrace and empower your teams. If you have the right people, they will carry you far.

Fraudulent or exaggerated claims, or a convenient memory, is a real “tell” about who you are as a leader.

2012 John Gregory Self